Let's say you're putting together a custom RPG system of yours (core mechanics of dice and conflict resolution, support mechanics, the skills, the races, the fluff, etc.)

Let's say you're making a fairly conservative system - something DnD-ish, fantasy-ish.

Let's also say you're not all that skilled and/or experienced at this kind of a designer job ... and you botch your RPG system.

Now, how do you objectively determine whether your system is broken? And, more importantly, how do you objectively define the criteria for the system possibly being so bad it only deserves to be thrown away, as a whole (as opposed to fixing a couple of elements and hoping for improving the functionality of the system)?

Why am I asking this? When I get my hands on a bad system design, I do get this gut feeling of the system being broken. Gut feelings are nice and all, but they do not translate to the other person. More rigorous approach is desired.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How do you define broken? Too complicated? Some combination of rules makes it too easy to "win"? Too many different mechanics with no unity? Just like a published system, and without any features that make it better than the published system? (In short, what makes a "good answer" to your question, so the voting system works properly?) \$\endgroup\$ – PotatoEngineer Aug 25 '14 at 19:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ The last bit sounds like circular logic: you put your hands on a bad design, and you get this gut feeling of it being broken, so you know it's bad design... \$\endgroup\$ – Adriano Varoli Piazza Aug 25 '14 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I haven't had a lot of system design experience, but this seems way too broad-scoped to have a single answer. You're basically asking, indirectly, 'what makes a game system good?'. \$\endgroup\$ – Zibbobz Aug 25 '14 at 20:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PipperChip The site will have saved the draft, should this get reopened. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Aug 25 '14 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is way too broad and opinion-based - it depends on the gamer's values. If you're one of the RAW-lovers that require your game to compile down to logically complete code you'll value things much differently than a hippie indie RPG person who demands that their game cause High Drama(tm). \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Aug 25 '14 at 20:57

You're designing a game to do something. That something is the kind of game play experience you want it to give.

The easy part is: does this give that experience? No? Ok, it's broken. (or, maybe it does a different kind of experience very well, but that's not what your goal was.)

Now for the "fun" (hard, grueling) part of game design - why isn't it doing that?

  1. "Because of this issue that I understand well, and oh look, I have an idea to fix it."
  2. "Because of this issue that I can't see a way around and I'm going to have to decide how much time and energy I want to put into figuring out how to fix it."
  3. "I have no clue and I'm going to have to decide how much time and energy I want to put into figuring out what it is, and it will turn into #1 or #2 from there."

So... it's time to scrap it when your desire to fix it is less than the amount of energy you want to put in.

My practical advice, that isn't asked here, is usually the answer is to look at different games - including boardgames, card games, videogames, weird RPGS that are structured very different than your own ("No GM?", "Wait, everyone changes characters every session?" etc.) for inspiration. You will often find what you thought was an insurmountable problem is often solved in someone ele's game and you have to decide if that's also something you can use.


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