Wednesday, October 10, 2012

DMing For A Game Design Class

-The video game industry makes lots of money.

-This means game design is regularly being taught as an academic subject.

-This means every once in a while pen-and-paper RPG design also gets to be taught as an academic subject.

-So, therefore, I was invited to DM for these grad students in game design at USC.

-I ran this. Wake-up-in-a-dungeon, 3-ish possible avenues of investigation.

-They seemed to have a very good time. Though, y'know, it was 5 college kids and their prof playing a game for credit so it's not real surprising they had fun. If someone told you they were a bunch of high school kids playing at lunch you would've believed them.

-They used Swords & Wizardry, on account of it's free. They are running continuing PCs. Or they were until most of them died...

-I have run this dungeon for the girls, for a bunch of friends back east, and for a couple FLAILSNAILS groups via G+. This is the first time someone intentionally woke the gargantuan sleeping demon.

-...Resulting in a last-minute near-TPK which, really, is one of the best possible outcomes for a one-shot.

-I substituted in the "tooth door" from Death Frost Doom for a different door I had. They figured it out immediately pretty much.

-The intentional demon-waker was a dwarf cleric. She started out kinda unassuming (we rolled an alphabet die to make the dwarf's name) but in the first room she punched a hole in a corpse's neck to fill her canteen with blood. This kind of thing kept going on in the background, filling more and more bandwidth until by the end she was just like fuck it you guys go fight the boss monster, I'm gonna throw axes at this demon 'til he wakes up...

-She was the only survivor.

-Another player was a frogperson. Now she's a vampire frogperson. ...and I guess a vampire monkey is the boss of her now.


  1. So, what do you think they learned about game design from all this?

    1. Probably "Games existed before videogames, and they're still awesome."

    2. Aforementioned prof here.

      Pretty much all the students in the graduate program, and most of the students in the undergrad, have always been aware of the continuities between non-digital and digital play - and their discontinuities, as well.

      What they are learning in this class is about games as performance, more than design, though - so a lot of the students almost see it as a break from their usual approach.

  2. Yes. And yes. And yes. I'm teaching one of those design classes right now, a class called Digital Narratives. It focuses on the scenario & script writing that goes into computer RPGs and first-person shooters. And what am I having my students do? Design pen-and-paper worlds and adventures and scenarios and characters using Mutant Future, Swords & Wizardry, and X-Plorers.

    I also have them map out all the choices in a gamebook (Fighting Fantasy), T&T solo module, or a Choose Your Own Adventure book. When students begin to realize the number of choices available to a player in a print medium, and then then begin to think about all the writing that goes into the million+ choices you can make in a game like Skyrim, they tend to understand that great, creative writing is the backbone of cRPGs.

    And that creativity is the backbone of good game design, period.

  3. Wow, mwschmeer. That's some nifty pedagogy right there. Of course I'm guessing that some of them probably need to have that theme repeated a lot before they understand that good graphics and a nice physics engine cannot save a bad story.

  4. The guards can see we're all out of weapons,
    no machetes.
    Potion. Raw bruises.
    Potion. Raw bruises.