Procedural Tabletop Game Creation... Game.
A few weeks back, Lauren and I got to teach a few friends how to play 5th Edition D&D. While the whole thing has been streamlined by Wizards and clearly leans towards new players, we were hard-pressed to find ways to explain rules without referring back to previous versions of them. While things like proficiency bonuses or hit dice calculation should be easy enough to explain on their own, the context of what these rules used to be helped us shape a narrative for the gameplay itself.
For those of us who have played most of the versions of long-running games like Dungeons & Dragons, or many variations of a game like the Powered by the Apocalypse suite, one of the ways that we help make sense of rule systems is by comparing them to each other. The similarities and differences help us create a shorthand that helps us get internalize the mechanics and dive further into the real meat of the game.
So then I had this dumb idea.
What if there was a game where an underlying structure of the game was to create more of the game?
Imagine a game in the Powered by the Apocalypse style, but instead of players selecting roles and backstories and such right off the bat, we begin with only a set of basic moves and a general character description. The GM defines the general setting (fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, etc.) and play begins.
As the characters act in the world and begin to make rolls (with the usual 2d6 used by the system), they keep track of their rolls both below 7 and above 9. For every roll below a 7, the player marks a "New Rule" counter. For every roll above 9, they mark a "New Move" counter. Once one of the counters reaches its limit, the player gets to add something new to the game, and the counter resets.
If the "New Rule" counter reaches 5, the player may add a new rule to the game that must affect all players. Ideally, these should be kept simple, and the GM is allowed to veto where necessary. For example, a new rule could be "Short swords deal 6 damage" or "The last person who bought food for the group gets to go first" or "Making a good speech in real life gives you a +1 bonus to diplomacy". You can also elect to remove a previously-made rule, however there must be a majority agreement of the players present to do so. If a rule is removed this way, keep a record of the rule and the date that it was removed (and optionally who it was removed by).
If the "New Move" counter reaches 3, the player may create a new move for themselves, which their character will have access to going forward. This move must conform to the standard rules, and have a specific trigger, success result, and mixed success result. Optionally, it may have a failure result as well. The GM has veto power for new moves, and you cannot create a move that matches an already-existing move. For example, a player who wants to be stealthy can create a move like this:
When you sneak up behind someone, roll +Cool. On a 7-9 hold 1, on a 10+ hold 2. You may spend hold one-for-one to achieve an effect from this list:
- Deal your weapon's damage
- Steal 1 gold
- Steal a loose object
- Plant a small item on their person
Once a player has made two moves this way, they may define a role for themselves. The player's two moves are now that role's basic moves. If a new player joins the game (or if someone has to make a new character) and there is no one else currently playing as this role, they may select this role and automatically receive the basic moves. Any new moves created by player who created this role are now the role's advanced moves. New characters who select this role after it has advanced moves may select one advanced move in addition to the basic moves.
In the event that a character selects an existing role at character creation, then creates a new move as they play the game, they are now multi-classing. Keep track of the new moves, and once the player has created two of them, they create a new role, following the same rules as before. On this player's character sheet, list both the original role and the new role that the player has created. The new role can also be selected by new players.
Once all of the players present have created one new rule and two new moves, you have reached a new "edition" of the game. Write down all of the new rules and moves and keep track of the date. After the first edition, every time all of the players have created one new rule or one new move, that is a new edition. Continue to keep track of the changes and dates, potentially in a group document using Google Drive or Dropbox.
Because the GM never rolls, their job becomes more about improvising with the characters, and introducing obstacles that fit the direction that the players want to go-- both in story, and mechanics.
Again, this is probably a bad idea and no good at all, but I'd like to try it.