I recently picked up the book Universal Principles of Design. It’s a book I wish I had a long time ago but didn’t know existed. I used to think of design as one of those murky subjects that no one really knew what was going on in because I would see designers that churn out wacky or useless items. Maybe I was just seeing the fringe actors that were more interested in grabbing people’s attention. The book, first published in 2003 is research based and although it still leaves a lot of wiggle room up to the designer, it illuminates the ideas that lead to good design.
One of those principles is control. The concept is very simple, there should be a way to use a design for beginners that is simple and consistent and an expert way to use a design that opens up options and adds flexibility. I’ve stumbled on the idea of making simpler RPGs to help beginning players a while ago but the simple treatment of the subject made me take another look at the subject.
The principal of Control is laid out to include the concept of two levels of interaction with a design. This is nothing new to RPGs, in fact it’s very old. You have your Basic book and your Advanced book. I think the thing that turned me off of this concept early on, was that often the rules for the basic book were inherently different than those in the advanced book. This meant that a character made with the basic rules wouldn’t translate to the advanced rules. At least, that’s my recollection. I think the Marvel Superheroes game by TSR had a clean translation from beginner book to advanced.
I tried to give lip service to this concept when I was working on the 3rd edition for The Artifact. In the beginning of the rules, I point to the rules that are vitally important and the ones that are there for added functionality. I don’t think that goes far enough. For one, it doesn’t simplify things in the eyes of the reader. They still feel compelled to read through all the added functions. But even if the idea did work, I’m only making things easier on the GM. I haven’t helped out the players yet.
I have a partial concept of simplifying the character sheet by emphasizing the main useful strategies that an occupation could use. I’m not sure about how to do it yet though.