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When setting out to write/manage/run a system, like with anything else, one should have a defining objective or mission statement for the system. This should form a Golden Concept which can be used to inform or make all other system decisions.

This article is predominantly written from an Larp point of view but it can be equally true for a table-top or CRPG.

 

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A clearly defined route in game development and running...

 

Mission Statement and Golden Concept

Although both can serve similar functions, I find it can be useful to make the following distinction: 

  • Golden Concept - is the single defined end objective of the game. It rarely changes and does not focus on single game areas.
  • Mission Statement - is subservient to the Golden Concept and it the short-term (event, plot-line etc) statement by which this particular part of the game works towards achieving that end objective. It may be focused on a narrower area of interest within the game.

This allows several mission statements to work towards fulfilling the Golden Concept/End Objective at once. Potentially, mission statements might have quite different features. That for a particular game, one plotline might have a horror focused mission statement, whilst another plotline might have one focused on politics and player engagement - both work together to deliver a Concept of a powerful and immersive game.

 

Use of Golden Concepts 

Importantly, the Golden Concept exists as an unchanging ideal that is more than just a statement. It exists to help across all stages of a system’s lifecycle:

  • Writing or revision: During this stage of the system, its aids the decision making process. It ensures that the objective of the game remains in-line with developments that are made, and the Golden Concept isn’t lost a diverging array of ‘good’ or ‘cool’ ideas, that on their own may lack cohesion.
  • Player/crew/runner buy in: Whether the Concept is formally written down or informally communicated, the Golden Concept for the system informs all the stakeholders -players/crew/referees/owner (it can help to remind yourself of the mission statement from time to time)- so that everyone understands what you are all trying to build together.
  • Content generation: Every mission, encounter, prop or NPC should be working towards achieving and reinforcing that mission statement.
  • Team management: Beyond the initial crew/co-runner buy-in phase, the Golden Concept also helps manage teams within the running group. If someone objects to a plot-line, concept or development it is all the stronger, and potentially easier to discuss if the manager or runner raising any objections can point towards how the idea violates the Golden Concept. And, as everyone has already bought into the objective of maintaining that Golden Concept, the disagreement with the author of the plot-line, concept or development can be all the easier, and changes to bring it in-line are more easily recognised.
  • Checks and balances: This has partially been covered in the above points but as every system matures there are going to be changes and developments. The Golden Concept helps to inform those decisions by which the system/world/characters are able to change. This is particularly useful to serve as an aid-memoire when emotions might be strong and people are passionate about their elements of the game.
  • Helping enforce discipline: If the Golden Concept includes the basics of the ethics of the game, then violations of the Concept can be fairly identified. Similarly, as players should already be aware of the principles of the Concept, it is easier to discuss ethics violations with them.
  • Letting people know what kind of game they are in for: Whether it is explicitly stated or just forms part of the system briefing and marketing, having a defined mission statement or Golden Concept helps players and runners identify if this is the right game for them.
  • Marketing or developing the system: If the Golden Concept is muddy or similar to another game, then you will have a much harder job selling the system to prospective players.

 

There can be a feeling that the Concept may be short and indistinct or overly long and detailed: 

To run the bestest best game ever. 

VS

In a detailed political structure, to give the players the framework to develop their etc…

 

What a Golden Concept should do is identify the critical objectives and ideas of the system. What is impermeable in the ideas and ideals behind the game and ideally what is the unique selling point(s) for the system.

 

Examples 

In defining a game: 

A) A fun and accessible experience in a science-fantasy universe where the beauty of an old empire clashes with the free spirits of its young neighbours.

B) A deep and intense experience in a sprawling space-opera universe where the decaying grandeur of and old empire seeks to oppress its former slaves.

 

In basic concept these two statements cover the same game but in the details a clear difference can be drawn and referring back to the previous points the concept can be used to make informed decisions.

 

A) The game is intended to be fun so it’s themes will most likely be heroic and bold, with clear cut and simple plotlines. It’s also intended to be accessible so the required understanding of the world background and kit should be low. No overly grand costume requirements and no detailed understanding of the world is to be expected.

One should be able to play the game easily. Similarly the system’s rules/mechanics should be simple to understand, allow easy access for new players and conducive to a fun play experience. This may well be supported by satisfying abilities and meaningful character classes. 

Similarly, as it’s expected to be an easy access game, players should be able to play effective character’s from their first session, not have to play through months/years of game before they can make an impact. As it’s a light science-fantasy setting, the in-game rules of science will be glossed over; there may be hyperspace travel and power swords, but they aren’t explained or questioned in any detail.

The game contains elements of beauty of an old empire and free spirited new nations growing about it. This will inform your kit and costume requirement but also your system mechanics and how you market the game. 

If you can be a carefree independent or regal imperial, it is taken that one may play as either faction then you need to consider how PvP interaction takes places whilst maintaining a fun casual play balance.

Finally as a fairly ‘light’ game more challenging plot elements will be avoided and a clear black and white morality will be followed.

 

B) As a deep and immersive setting, this game expects players to have a good understanding entering the game what the setting entails and their place within it. They must either prepare extensively or be willing to start at a low level within the system and/or game-world and work their way up.

The game is expected to be emotionally charged, it is intended to put people outside of their comfort zone and make them face difficult problems and defeat. The game is ‘enjoyable’ rather than ‘fun’.

The Empire is defined as decaying, setting, kit and rules should all reflect this. Grandeur is a challenge to replicate, this needs to be considered in how the game is run. Are sites available that will capture and deliver on this theme that one is setting out to create?

Their opponents were former slaves of the empire. Have these cultures maintained their own identity or do they wear the modified trappings of their former masters?

One of the aims of the game is to deliver and intense experience, one of the core concepts is a group struggling to reclaim their identity after being slaves. These are things that players and crew are going to have to be mature about.

Beyond helping to define and develop a game the Golden Concept can be used throughout the game lifecycle as a continuous reference.

 

As a check/balance:

A referee has an great idea for how to implement a magic system through song and dance. They’ve put a lot of effort into it and you can see that it would make for some really great set pieces in future.

In a high-immersion game with demanding entry requirements this may be appropriate. However if your game is intended to be accessible, placing a system in place strongly influenced by OOC ability is a clear barrier of entry to players without that experience.

 

Content Generation: 

Usually games have more ideas that chance to utilise them. When writing a plotline it can pay to review not just the immediate comparable value (entertainment/etc) of ideas but also their value against the Golden Concept. Pirates vs Ninjas might sound like great fun that you know some players will enjoy but if your game is a medieval historical piece not only would such a plot-line not develop that world setting it actively opposes what people might have joined your game to experience.

 

Conclusion 

However you want to run a game, starting from a clearly defined concept and which is enshrined as a mission statement/Golden Concept can only be a strength and aid for you throughout the development process but also whilst running the game. Because you have a conceptual beacon you can look at this whenever facing a risk/decision (threat or opportunity) and see which responses work towards the Golden Concept. Those that should help the game and those which detract from it can be identified.

The Concept itself is not the decision making process, it is simply a consistent scale against which things within the game can be assessed. Particularly if facing mutually exclusive decisions that both have benefits - the use of a common and consistent scale allows for a fair and balanced assessment, even if just being used as a tool for personal decision making.

Finally, though the Concept itself should be free from change, it doesn’t mean that it cannot be revised. The ‘locked’ nature of the Concept means that it is only revised in a controlled and formalised manner when the new Concept is raised, reviewed, decided upon and implemented in a way that allows the game to best progress and improve.