What do you look for in an RPG?
I don’t think that I go searching for new RPGs. I hear about them, and sometimes I get interested so I look deeper. I made a short list, but it’s not in any real order. In any event, these are the things that will turn my head (& keep my gaze transfixed the more they show up).
I’m a sucker for a premise. Something unusual or that I personally find compelling. Looking at the Delta Green RPG and the idea that an agency continues to attempt to protect humanity from Lovcraftian Horrors after the initial raid off of Innsmouth, that’s a premise that turns my head. That game may be in my future. ~ All that said, a premise all by itself isn’t enough.
I struggle with settings. It’s something I’ve talked about on my YouTube Vlog, and it’s something I’ll probably talk about here one day. It’s not that I don’t like them, I enjoy a flavorful and nuanced setting as much as the next person, but I have a difficult time internalizing them. So, one thing that makes me smile is when I see a setting that I can learn over time as needed. Something that I can assimilate piecemeal as we play.
I love an interesting mechanic. Systems & mechanics fascinate me. There’s something magical that happens when I see a novel mechanic and the system around it & I can see how the fiction can be shaped around it. I can visualize what kind of fingerprint this will put on the experience. Sometimes I can learn to love a premise if the system captures my imagination. ~ A caveat is that I don’t want the mechanic to take center stage, rather I get excited when I see that it can get the fiction to the spotlight in an interesting and different way. Strange that I guy who doesn’t want too many rules loves them so much.
Good writing grabs my attention right away. Writing RPG texts is a science and an art. A real skill with a healthy dose of feel & mojo thrown in. I love it when an RPG is written like a technical manual. Everything is clearly defined, the terms remain the same so you aren’t juggling synonyms trying to figure out what they’re talking about (is a spell the same thing as a ritual? was that on page 217?). I love clear instructions, good examples, flow charts, etc, and I really take appreciate it when books are presented in a redundant manner. Tech Noir is one of those RPGs that I found used redundancy to great effect in teaching you how to play the game without having to flip back and forth. ~ Now, an RPG manual that does all that and still presents the material in an engaging manner is a thing of beauty. When these things are absent? Well, RPGaDAY is about being positive…. 😉
Last but not least is good design. I could call this coherence, although I might be misappropriating that term slightly from its original use regarding RPGs. What I mean is, I look for games that don’t fight themselves mechanically. When a game says it is about pulp heroics and action & the mechanics produce a pulp heroic feel, it is a win. When the various parts of the system interact well together and produce results aligned with the fiction and the genre, this might not get my attention on its own, but if something else on the list has turned my head, this will certainly assure me that the game is worth a further look.
There are other things I look for, but often these are more ephemeral and change with my evolving interests, biases, & preferences. ~ Tune in Tomorrow for staying power!