The Story So Far
Luther and I were recently approached to design a boardgame to enhance an existing RPG product line. This project got me started thinking about cross-platform game design.
To engage players in your crossover, it must give players new experiences while staying true to the parent game.
I’m heading up to Dallas for BGG.FAM for the weekend–and my 48th birthday–but first, let’s talk conversions. This time, we move between miniatures games and roleplaying games.
Converting a Minis Game Into a Roleplaying Game
Well this is where roleplaying games started, isn’t it? Gary Gygax was a fan of Jeff Perren’s minis rules and together, they created Chainmail. Gygax and Dave Arneson decided to personalize this experience by playing the same character over multiple sessions rather than simply deploying nameless figurines each play. The rest–as they say…
Many RPG conversions from minis games fall short of the potential of that medium. My college gaming group of the late 1980s played tons of Battletech. It was only natural that they would try out the official Battletech roleplaying game, Mechwarrior. Although I wasn’t an active member of the group, I did sit in on a few sessions. The campaign was all about a loose group of mercenaries and their attempts to get by without signing on to one of the clans. Unfortunately, roleplay consisted of “I climb into my mech,” *spend two hours playing the minis game* “I climb out of my mech.” They had boiled their RPG down into miniatures game in which you play the same mini repeatedly. The RPG was quickly abandoned and the group returned to straight-up Battletech skirmishes. They missed the opportunity to do anything deeper.
Converting from miniatures game to roleplaying game gives you, the designer, a chance to zoom in. Your players no longer look at the coordinated force of a squad, division, or army. Instead, they get to focus on a single character. Play in an RPG is about the internal motivations and external achievements of that character and any RPG design should highlight them.
Converting from minis to RPG lets you take the game new places. Using minis rules to govern the negotiations between two rival nations would probably be pretty dull but roleplaying is the perfect medium for such diplomatic drama. Roleplaying games generally better at staging any dramatic scene–business aspirations, interpersonal romance, personal tragedy, visceral horror–than are minis games.
Converting a Roleplaying Game Into a Minis Game
Minis games are a solid compliment to many roleplaying games. Original Dungeons & Dragons recognized this; the Men & Magic rule booklet advised players to use Chainmail to handle combat.
Minis games are better at clarifying combat. They are better at giving each player an immediate sense of their character and its surroundings. They are also better at handling large groups of units. Have negotiations broken down? Must you lead your battalion to war? Did you trip a trap and release twenty-eight massive, red, poisonous spiders on your team? Have you found your way into the vampire den and must stake all of them before their numbers overwhelm you? Break out the maps and the minis!
Rules and Complexity
There is no particular trend in complexity between these two game types. There are simple and complex roleplaying games. There are simple and complex miniatures games. In general, try to keep the complexity close. If the minis game is rules-light, create a rules-light RPG. If the RPG is complex or nuanced, make a meaty minis game.
It is ideal to carry core mechanisms from the parent game to its conversion. If the roleplaying game uses a D20 system, so should the minis game. If armies in the minis game roll buckets of dice as in Warhammer 40K, use a buckets of dice system in your RPG. If the minis game uses cards as in Malifaux, bring that card play mechanism over. If the RPG is dice-light like Fiasco, employ a similar dice light engine. Keeping core mechanisms similar keeps the feel of your game familiar to players coming over from the original property.
Roleplaying games tend to have smaller greater scope than minis games. Any conversion from one to the other should align its complexity with the parent game.
Each can give a great gaming experience to our players.
In the next column, we will tackle board game/roleplaying games conversions. Until then, keep on designing!
What do you think of roleplaying: minis game conversions? Did I miss any features? Have you written any yourself? How did you approach it? Share with your fellow readers in the comments below. And if you’re enjoying what you’re reading, create an account with WordPress and follow this blog. If you keep reading, I’ll keep writing.