Game Design: Where Dreams go to Die

One of the most fun and most agonizing parts of the design process is uncovering a problem. On the one hand, it’s exciting to recognize a problem, and start working on ways to fix it. The hard part is when that problem came from something that you really really liked.

Here’s a retrospective look at all the cool ideas that I had to throw out when working on Mythic Mortals. I may be able to revisit and revive these ideas, but for the foreseeable future, these features will NOT be in the game any time soon.

Character Questionnaire Creation

I wanted to make an intuitive character creation process that would turn your real-world self into an in-game character. Players take a 20-30 true/false questionnaire about themselves, answering questions as best they can.

The result would build a character for you, one that reflects your actual attributes.

So for example, here’s how a questionnaire might go (with the results in the back of the book):

17. I tend to react to obstacles instinctively, and rather than taking a step back and carefully considering my options.
True : You gain a bonus to your turn order Mythos value, and an additional bonus to reactions.
False: At the beginning of your turn, you may discard 2 cards to add +4 to all of your slot values.

18. I was always pretty good at science class.
True: After you kill a monster, you can spend a turn harvesting parts and concoct a random beer/tea.
False: Your other areas of knowledge allow you to recall ancient legends and form the weapon of another class.

19. I love to carry around lots of stuff. Pocketknives, emergency supplies, snacks, whatever. My car is always stocked, and my knapsack is always full.
True: If any of your abilities/weapons can be depleted, they never do.
False: Because you refuse to be weighed down, you can move an extra 10 feet when you Sprint.

It’s not hard to see how this fell apart. For one, taking questionnaires isn’t fun, and it takes a long time, both to answer the questions and build your resulting character. That doesn’t fit at all with the fast, low-prep nature of Mythic Mortals. Second, there need to be a lot of T/F questions to result in different characters. I could use multiple choice, but that leads to the final problem: Balance.

It’s hard to make every question both interesting and useful. And the options get REALLY out of hand, especially if each question is self-contained. For example, say that 22. False gives you a weapon, but 27.True also gives you a weapon. Which one do you have? What if people answer so that they get neither weapon?

It’s kind of a neat idea, but in practice it would be really slow, and really complicated, with lots of possible results that are boring, over-powered, or simply don’t reflect the player.

Battle Mat

This was suggested by a fellow designer when I first started working on Mythic Mortals. The initial idea was an encounter battle mat that players would be able to slot cards into to change and affect the battle.

For example, maybe there are 3 options: Country side, suburbs, and city. Players can choose where they want the fight to happen by arranging cards on the mat. Other ideas included letting players choose to fight lots of little enemies, a few big ones, or a mix. Players could add statuses to the battle (storms, high winds, out of control fires, mortal police, etc) that would affect and change the battle.

The trade-off would be that players could sacrifice their best cards to have an easier battle, of they could get rid of crappy cards to make the battle more challenging.

I still like this idea, but I wasn’t able to get it to work in a way that didn’t really slow down the start of the game. The original Mat took up 4 printed out pages, and allowed for lots of options, and took about 30 mins to go through and setup. Simpler mats didn’t really allow for much variety, essentially forcing players to choose from 3-4 different battles; which isn’t much fun.

I may come back to this, perhaps has a more traditional encounter table than a battle mat. The battle mat also takes up a lot of table space that is only used at the beginning of a fight. Player Mats already take up enough space at my table! We don’t need more clutter for such a simple game.

Non-Combat Stuff

Ah, this feature. I spent MONTHS trying to cram this stuff into Mythic Mortals, and I still feel kinda guilty about not being able to make it work. I think Mythic Mortals might have some more widespread appeal if there was able to handle non-combat obstacles.

The biggest problem is the shifting cards and slot values. Early versions of non-combat mechanics resulted in some strange situations where the Brute was weaker than the Sneak, simply because of the cards that were in each slot.

Another problem is that many non-combat scenarios rely on gradual improvement and mastery. For example, if the Sneak is expected to disarm traps, than she should only get better at disarming traps. She shouldn’t ever get worse!

The next avenue I tried was to create a whole new set of rules and mechanics for non-combat stuff that allowed for an increasing level of skills and talents. That nearly doubled the number of rules that players needed to learn and use. I even included two sides to every character sheet, a “battle side” and an “exploration side”. I still kinda like the idea of flipping over your mat to access a new part of the game. But in practice, players often forgot some of the rules, wanted to use non-combat skills in battle and vice versa, and more issues.

In the end, it just ended up adding tons of bloat to what was otherwise a sleek, smooth gameplay experience.

Conclusion

Mythic Mortals, more than any other game that I’ve worked on, required a lot of refinement and tweaking, simply because it is so unlike any other game I’ve ever played. This process resulted in a huge break-out moment for me, as a game designer.

I always saw RPGs at lists of features. Does this game have poison mechanics? Mounted combat? Ship to Ship fights? Well THIS other game has all of those things, so the one with more features is better.

But that isn’t true. As I’ve played and reviewed more games, I’ve found that focused, streamlined games are MUCH more fun and exciting, even if they don’t provide everything you’re looking for. Wushu, for example, is amazing at choreographing elaborate fight scenes. It’s bare-bones in every other area, but if you want to have a Matrix-like brawl, then it’s perfect. And that’s okay.

Not every game has to do everything. It’s okay to say, “This game is really good for this kind of experience, and that good is game for a different experience.” I kind of knew this on a surface level, but learning to focus Mythic Mortals has helped me fully realize and accept this truth.

Mythic Mortals won’t appeal to everyone, but I wanted to make sure that anyone who was interested in the concept would have a REALLY good time with it, rather than a bunch of people having a mediocre time.

Checkout mythicmortals.com to grab yourself a copy!