The new and improved defender of RPGs!

Thursday, 29 October 2015

10th Anniversary Classic Rant: How to be a Crappy RPG Writer

There's a very clever little article I recently found, entitled "how to write suckitudinous fiction"; by Holly Lisle. It is fascinating how many of the Swine writers out there have their counterparts with the Swine RPG writers, because you can take Holly's rules and apply it just as easily to the creation of bad RPG settings (and systems with default setting concepts). Here's the RPG version of her rules.

I. Thou shalt anoint no heros.
The PCs can, under no circumstances, be morally heroic. They have to all be shades of grey, incapable of doing or being truly good.

II. Thou shalt decree no villain.
There aren't any truly bad guys in your setting. The cannibalistic orcs are just misunderstood. The necrophiliac pirate is just making a lifestyle choice. The alien entity out to destroy the world just has mother issues. And if the PCs hate these creatures or try to resolve the problem by fighting them (instead of trying to resolve it by therapy or just letting the bad guy win), then its the PCs who are bad people and should be punished for it, especially since they're not supposed to be heroes (see point I, above).

III. Thou shalt express no opinion.
Your game system or setting must, under no circumstances, allow anything the PCs do to matter. Its ok to give them awesome powers, but for the magic deer's sake make sure that there are mighty deus ex machinas running around that make sure the PCs can't actually change anything from what the holy game designer intended.

IV. Thou shalt embrace no theme.
No, I'm not talking about the bullshit "theme" jargon from the Forge. I'm talking about your setting or game having a fucking point. If you want your setting or game to suck, make it about creating awesome dudes with kewl powers who then... ? what? Hang around? Do fuck all?
Make sure your players and GM have fuck all to do with the kewl setting you've given them. Make them all hip and exciting, but then make no obvious point to the game. Extra points if, when asked about this on the FAQ ("what do you actually DO in the setting"?) you respond with "You can do ANYTHING!"

V. Thou shalt sneer at conflict.
Make your game be "superior" to those other games because your game is "not about combat". Instead, characters are given cool powers and there's a two-hundred page chapter on combat, but you're explicitly told in the GM/setting material that you shouldn't focus on combat in the game. Heck, you should actively DISCOURAGE it. Make sure that anytime the PCs get into combat, they suffer terribly for it in one way or the other. Make it more trouble than its worth.
Extra points if you claim your game is an "investigative game" where you're supposed to find out what some great Evil (sorry, Misunderstood) Power is doing, but you aren't supposed to actually allow anyone to try to shoot or hack at said Power. The idea is that when you actually find it, its supposed to either kill you all or drive you all insane; if the PCs try to actually resist, they're "powergamers".

VI. Thou shalt commit no plot.
Your game world must not have any coherent backstory. Instead let a whole load of shit happen for no good reason and seemingly unconnected. Extra points if your game setting makes absolutely no social sense at all, like keeping all kinds of medieval trappings while people use magic L-Trains and live in Mithril Skyscrapers.

VII. Thou shalt eschew coherence.
Just make your game setting absolutely apeshit unreadable. Take utterly common things and give them in-setting names that serve no purpose other than to confuse ("There are no spoons on Myridia, instead there are Frry'thgans, which are just like spoons").
Write reams of unreadable wordy bullshit to the point that no normal human being would be able or interested in reading through your junk, and then claim its "art". Extra points if you don't actually have a sensible complete game system included in there, but you pretend you do and claim that anyone who protests just "doesn't understand it" and its their fault for being so ignorant.

VIII. Thou shalt flee from any hint of pace.
Write reams and reams of stuff about the mating habits of that rare monster your players might fight once, but don't include any details about the elven kingdom immediately next door to the default starting location for the new PCs.

IX. Thou shalt murder suspense.
Make sure your very first sourcebook takes any of the cool potential menaces that your setting had and either Destroy Them Forever, or reduce them to some kind of an ineffective joke.

X. Thou shalt excise vile passion like a nose wart, lest it shame thee.
Make sure that in your setting, the players aren't allowed to aspire to anything, or have any ambitions. They can never go above their relatively low station in the power structure of the group they're in, or become the greatest heroes of the land, because either that the position has already been filled by someone of a power level your pcs can't actually ever reach, or the social setup of the world is made so that your players can never actually come out winning in any way. The best they can hope for is to break even.

XI. Thou shalt mock hope as plebian.
A truly crappy game system must be one where not only is evil not really evil, it's the cool choice.
On the other hand make sure that if your setting involves fighting against an approaching evil, your setting material makes it perfectly clear to the GM and he must make it clear to the players that they CAN'T POSSIBLY WIN. It's not allowed.
Or make a snappy "intellectual game" where there's no actual way to win, but the "point" becomes how you address the "theme" of your inevitable decay.

XII. Thou shalt equate faith with rankest superstition.
Make sure that any organized religions are corrupt and evil to the core, ESPECIALLY if they're monotheist. Any visibly religious people, with the exception of free "eclectic" new age types, are ALWAYS evil.
Make sure your game setting either creates gross misconceptions about Christianity itself, or, if its in a fantasy world, creates a religion that is meant to be an obvious equivalent and makes them evil scum.

XIII. Thou shalt declare RPGs dead, and do thy bit to kill them deader.
Make sure that you as a game designer rant on and on about how RPGs as a hobby are "dying", and the "traditional" models cannot possibly survive. Go on to claim that all the crappy self-absorbed self-serving second-rate junk that you have is actually the Master Plan for a "revolution" that will change RPGs, and that clearly everything that people did before must be thrown out and replaced by your glorious new vision of people playing only morally repugnant games where there's no good or evil, nothing for PCs to do, no way to win, the bulk of the game is about looking good in some way or another and putting on pretentious airs while nothing happens, and there's no fucking point.
Because clearly, there will be millions who will come flocking to that...


(Originally Posted November 12, 2007)


  1. 10th anniversary of 2007? Eighth or a typo there...

    1. It's postings of some of my classic rants, in honors of 10 years of this blog (2005-2015).

  2. Ol' Pundit's 10th anniversaries are usually actually 8th or 9th for some reason only he can fathom.

    Rule XII is okay by me, though.

  3. This doesn't seem like an accurate diagnosis of the problems with the Hurley et al faction to me. In some cases their sins are the exact opposite of these.

    (NB: In most cases I haven't seen their RPG writing, only how they conduct themselves on Twitter and G+, so that's what I'm basing my judgment on.)

  4. I think this can be expanded to cover "How to be a bad GM" because I swear I've been in campaigns that followed those rules.