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Subject: [Long] Capturing the RPG feel in a boardgame rss

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Wombah
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Hi all. Among my backlog of not yet created boardgames there is an idea for a boardgame/rpg crossover that I've realized I will never be able to create. Or at least not on my own. So this is a bit of an explanation of the rough highlevel outline for the idea. I'm looking for some input on the feasability of such a game, and - even better - hopefully someone might be interested in helping out with making this game reality.

This is going to be a long post, and I'm sorry if I'm rambling but I've tried to organize it somewhat. On that note, if anyone running BGG reads this, it would be awesome to have spoiler tags or similar that fold up.

If you are not interested in a boardgame that is created to play something like an old videogame rpg, with overland travel on a small scale map, and then running encounters on more 'zoomed in' map sections, you might not want to invest your time in reading this.

**************************

Background/Design goal

I was an avid roleplayer a few years back, but now that I'm no longer a student and is about to start a family etc time is at a premium. So the most obvious thing I'd like from a boardgame/rpg is something that emulates parts of the old rpg feeling, while still not requiring quite the same time investment. Also, note that when I say roleplayer I do not mean the free-form/imrovised theater end of the spectrum. I was always more of a roll-player. The thing I'm after is playing a game with a sense of campaign/progression where you build your own story arc, and most importantly where you have a high degree of freedom in selecting what your goals are and how you tackle the obstacles to get there.

So here's the mission statement in bulletpoint form (is there no built-in bullet point lists on this forum?).
* Diverse character building
* Campaign mode where several sessions create a story arc
* Varying the sessions so it's not all about exploring dungeons or whatever.
* A high degree of freedom of selecting where to go and what to do
* Either GM-less, or at least preparation-less GMing
* The more replay-ability the better, but getting the rpg campaign feel is more important. The components should be reusable though, such that you could write a new campaign and resue most components, and just add in a few specific new items/maps/npcs.

Inspirations

As I said, in general I'd like to emulate the old type of video games where you move across the landscape on a fairly small scale map, and then run encounters and the like on smaller map sections. Another large inspiration would be the '50 Fathoms' plot point campaign by Pinnacle Entertainment. It is composed of a setting that has just the right amount of life, but still is limited enough to be easily GMed.


Other inspirations include Mansions of Madness, which I actually have yet to play. I just got off on the thought behind that game, even if it maybe doen't live up to giving real freeform problem solving gameplay.

System

So far I've imagined the system to be rpg-like but simplified. I haven't got a finished system in mind, but I'm thinking fairly standard D6 dicepool system with a few attributes and a few skills. Say something like a standard attribute grouping with 'mental', 'social' and 'physical', and then around fifteen different skills to go with that. The system as such actually isn't all that important compared to integrating the system in the content.

By 'integrating the system in the content' I mean things such as making sure that all skills in the game are of similar importance, and that every player gets the same focus in a game. For example I imagine each player deciding on one or more 'focal skills' that are used to select plot hooks for scenarios. A simplistic example would be that when a player decides to go barhopping in some outback miner town (totally made up scenario here), the GM can pull a card/randomly select from a table a plot hook where he is challenged to a game of poker. The system also needs to be balanced just right so that this kind of small hook can play out very quickly, while still allowing for some interesting desicions when appropriate.

Setting

The setting in 50 fathoms is awesome for this kind of game. I don't want to reuse it in any way, but it really nails a few things that would need to be worked into this setting. First and foremost is that the world is divided into small islands, and that the population of the world is relatively low. This makes it easy to run each location somewhat separate from the rest of the world, and really makes the GM's job easier. In the case of this world, It would allow you to prepare the plot hooks and whatnot for a given location without taken all other possible content into account. While the players may have been all over the world and have all manner of loot with them, the location as such is a fairly static place. This really helps uphold the suspension of belief in the rpg aspect of the game, and the setting itself makes so that you do not need to railroad the players so obviously.

Components

For components I'm thinking a small scale world map with terrain hexes. Here is where the players decide on where to go next when going between 'hotspots'. When travelling on thios map, the GM pulls random encounter cards from a deck, and looks at the coresponding terrain type to see if anything happens to the group.

When something happens, say like a combat encounter with wild animals you break out the larger scale maps. These I imagine as various loose hexes or groups of hexes from which you build the encounter map according to the terrain and any encounter details. Hopefully you could make a few such hex-tiles of varying sizes and shapes and get a fair amount of variety in what encounter maps you can build. The encounter maps should also include features that relate to the skills in the system, such as rocks you can climb over with the skill 'athletics' and the like.

Maybe some worldmap locations are represented with their own maps, such as villages etc. or they can be constructed from 'village hexes' as well. Either way it would be awesome if such locations look the same each time to help with the sense of continuity in the game world.

Items, weapons, loot and such I imagine are constructed with cards. Perhaps a few different decks depending on the situations, and in some cases you could have specific non-random cards for example when defeating a boss/ main antagonist. Similarly, any NPCs that might join the players could be represented with cards.

To help the GM manage the campaign and various side-quests etc, you could create some form of 'plot hook matrix' where you can note down what hooks have been completed, or any other relevant info that might change how the game progresses forward. I know someone created something like that as a GM aid for 50 Fathoms, and it might be of even more use in this kind of boardgameificated rpg campaign.

I also imagine using figure flats for the players/npcs/mobs during encounters.

Issues

The main obvious issue is creating all the content and designing the system. Writing a plot point campaign is a huge undertaking in itself, and then designing the system and creating the props/cards/maps comes on top of all that.

Designwise the big thing that I feel is lacking is how to represent non-combat parts of the rpg well in the game. Some form of mystery adventure feel can be constructed via the plot hooks. Things like maybe the players in find things various places that elude to a dungeon somewhere that they can then decide to go find on the world map. But I would also like some of the encounters to be solvable outside of combat as well.

**************************

Sooo... Thoughts? Can this game be made? Could it be good? Is there such a game already that I've missed?

EDIT:
Having written all that I now realize all of it is about my specific vision for my idea for a boardgame that captures an rpg feel, but I would welcome any constructive discussion/ideas on the general subject.
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Nate K
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You can create spoiler tags by highlighting the text and clicking the "SP" button to the left of the "Insert Geek Link" dropdown menu.

[edit]Or do you mean that you'd like the spoiler tags to shrink down when the text is hidden? Because that would, indeed, be a useful feature.
 
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Wombah
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kurthl33t wrote:

[edit]Or do you mean that you'd like the spoiler tags to shrink down when the text is hidden? Because that would, indeed, be a useful feature.

Exactly this. I've seen it on other boards, and it's awesome.
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Nate K
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Sounds like it's doable. In fact, you may want to talk to Rod Waibel about a game with similar ideas that he tried to publish a year or two ago. Sadly, I can't recall the name of the game offhand, but it sounded very intriguing, and involved a lot of design traits that you are trying to accomplish.
 
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Edwin Nealley

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Like the creation of any RPG World-setting, it sounds likes a huge undertaking.

Also, I'm not sure if you're decided on a technology level here or not- were you looking for high fantasy, fantasy, sci/fi fantasy, realism of some level with fantastic creatures (which creatures is another question best answered after setting is more resolved), steam-punk (with or without magic), world-shifting (like the 50 Fathoms campaign, seemingly) - there are scads of choices there that influence the next big questions.

The first thing I thought of reading your description was something like Earthsea, where islands had small fairly-discreet lands and cultures, some more similar than others, some of varying size and possibly with different problems and likely withe different resources to offer. If you had some way of randomly arranging the isles it would aid in replayability, and it just sounded like the kind of place you imagined.

This could be set with any of the kind of technology level, you would need to set this at a fairly early level, I would think.

After that, the next big hurdle I see for you, even before you get too deep in world creation, would be: What is the problem/How does a player "win"?

You described a designed flexibility in path to reach victory, but you didn't describe whether there would be a common goal, or whether you were looking for a co-op (team victory), or more normal (competitive) victory conditions. Return of the Heroes is an example of a competitive game with a common goal- everyone is trying to defeat the dark lord (selected randomly from a pool of villains), but the winner is one who accomplishes the feat.

But in a true RPG, without a GM 'Deus ex Machina' plot to team folks together into a single quest, players were free to choose both path and goals, as well as race/class, and personal advancement might be as important as any unique goal (e.g., Raise the sunken lands and save the Kingdom.)

I don't know how well that could work in a situation without a GM, or with very minimal GM activity needed.

I'd say you may need to think about it and to make some high-level design choices before you get much farther creating your game.

Good luck with it, and with your family!
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Filip W.
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Could such a game be made? Sure.

Would it be good? Well...

The main differences between an RPG and a board game is time and scope. Time spent on playing an RPG, at least a campaign, is counted in the hundreds of hours. Even a very ambitious wargame doesn't match that (with a very few exceptions but even those are usually finished in a year or so of steady playing).

If you only go for a video RPG then you can easily duplicate it with a board game - but you run into massive accounting problems. The question there is, if you're not doing a "true" RPG, with all the freedoms that implies, why do it as a board game? There's very little that a board game would do better than a video RPG at the same scale. The only thing I can think of is tacility, that you can feel the pieces.

My thoughts are: 1. how would your project be different from Descent with the expansions? and 2. why not use a system where only significant choices are presented to the players (i.e. no random encounters but everything that happens is of crucial interest).
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Dylan Green
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filwi wrote:

My thoughts are: 1. how would your project be different from Descent with the expansions? and 2. why not use a system where only significant choices are presented to the players (i.e. no random encounters but everything that happens is of crucial interest).


I agree with this.

So what do you want to do that makes this game fill a different niche?
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Linda Baldwin
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I'm going to go in a different direction with this. In my experience, BGs can duplicate parts of the RPG experience, but only at the sacrifice of the others. I haven't played Descent, but it seems to be about as close to the RPG experience as it gets. My drug of choice is Arkham Horror, but it still sacrifices the sense of cohesive story and character flexibility, while still requiring a significant play time. Mansions of Madness appears to try to solve the story and play time issues, but severely limits the variety in doing so.

What is it you're trying to save? Trying to devise a BG of the complexity you're describing will probably take more, not less, time than you would spend as a GM. (Of course, sometimes it's about solving interesting problems, in which case, go for it.)

I'm going to suggest something far simpler. If your concern is the time spent in designing a world, or encounters withing that world, there are hundreds of published campaigns, adventures (including linked adventures), and random encounters that would give you exactly what you're looking for. And the variety of RPGs available today means you're likely to find something of exactly the level of flexibilty, complexity, genre, and style that suits you.

I realize that's not the question asked, but it's a potential solution to the problem at hand. Of course, I may have misunderstood exactly what you're looking for.
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James Hutchings
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What time are you trying to save: DM prep time, playing time, or both (and I suppose you could divide playing time into creating characters and actually playing)?

Many RPG-like board games seem to save prep and character creation time, but take as long to play as an RPG session.
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Angela Hickman Newnham
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We've been working on this same general concept for over a year with our upcoming game Story Realms, the idea of making rpg elements, freedom, and creativity in a board game format, with a reasonable play time.

It was a MUCH bigger undertaking than I ever expected, but I'm really excited about how it's turned out. We've been having a lot of success with our beta playtesting, and I feel we've come up with some fun solutions to common rpg problems.

Although our theme is different, we've given a lot of thought to how to combine these genres and capture the best qualities of both game types. I'd be happy to discuss design and development with you, and even brainstorm ideas based on the considerations we've thought up over the course of making a similar type of game
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John "Omega" Williams
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Two games actually do this fairly well.

One is RuinsWorld which is a GMless co-op explorer game. Unfortunately its not overly complex for chargen. and its long out of print. But the whole set was allowed to be posted online.

The other is Dragon Storm This is still in print. But it is a CCG/RPG and requires a GM. But it is very easy in set up and covers alot of ground with some diverse chargen and GM options as well as being able to handle freeform roaming, and quests and elaborate stories. Very dependant on the skill of the GM. But the system is pretty easy to pick up.

One that allmost does the job is Cardmaster: Adventure Design Deck It can handle co-op and solo play. But its fairly basic.

Then theres Mythic Role Playing and more importantly Mythic Game Master Emulator which is a GM-less RPG with an interesting system for handling a *VERY* freeform play.
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One Armed Bandit
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There are many problems inherent with BG as RPG.

First and foremost is the "freedom" issue. An RPG gives you unlimited freedom, because you can declare that you're doing ANYTHING, and no matter how far out, the GM can adjudicate it.

Not so with a BG, where all possible actions and outcomes must be prescribed in advance. Anything outside of the permitted list, no matter how reasonable and logical, is forbidden.

A perfect example is, say my guy has a flint axe and a steel dagger. In an RPG, I can gather some tinder and use those to start a fire. In a board game, there is no "start fire" action, no "tinder" item card, no rules for spreading fire... or even rules for light.

Totally reasonable, not unfair or game breaking, perfectly logical... and yet impossible.

It becomes even worse when you give players the freedom to go where they want.

=========================

Honestly, my best advice for this would be to NOT design a board game with RPG elements.

It would be to design an RPG with board game elements.

There IS a market for RPGs with a tight coherent setting, lots of bling bits and coherent rules to run it all.

Call it a highly structured RPG and run with it. It will be far easier starting from the RPG side and then adding the board game elements as desired
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William Roop
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The two games that I own that feel most like an RPG are Worlds of Warcraft:theBoardgame and Ex halted: Legacy of the Unconquered Sun. WOW has some of the DEEPEST character development around. Fights aren't a round-by-round thing, but reflect pretty much the whole fight at once. Ex halted has pre-set characters, but has some of the most open play-style plus a very cool timing mechanic that I haven't seen in any other game.
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James Hutchings
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En Garde! (no connection to the better known card games about fencing), has entries in both RPGGeek and Boardgamegeek. It's probably the most RPG-like game that's not an RPG (and in fact the game calls itself a role-playing game).

En Garde! En Garde! (English RPG)

EDIT: Unlike most attempts to do an RPG-like game, it doesn't use a board or cards. Also, each action is a week, so it takes place on a very 'abstract' level. The nearest comparison is perhaps the between-dungeon events in Warhammer Quest.
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Rocco Privetera
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Let's examine a super quick hack together of what you are asking, after a fashion.

Start with any of the D&D boardgames. We've got 3 so far, and between then is a pretty wide assortment of monsters, terrain tiles, bosses, etc.
Now imagine you make a few changes to the D&D boardgame system. You tie experience directly into gaining levels (not pay 5 xp and roll a 20 - something more like every time a player gets Z amount of xp, you go up a level). You find a way to make more levels (the games only come with 2 - it would be easy to add 3-4).

Once you've got them done, you make an overland hex map. You make an encounter table for rolling on the map. Some encounters will be exploration/combat - in those cases you list the conditions for the encounter (like which tiles, which monsters, etc) and play a game of D&D BG. Some may be just NPC encounters with tables.

Anyway - it's all doable. There are two problems:
1. in a boardgame, you traditionally "win" at some point. There is no "win" in an rpg. How do you know when the session is over?
2. in a RPG combat is *very* involved. A game like Ravenloft, even without a big boss fight, is several hours. That sort of matches a D&D game (typical D&D games have a few encounters per game plus some rpg stuff in between). In order to give a more RPG feel, you'd need to slim down the combats so players could spend more time on exploration, growth, etc.
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