Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Rules Writing Process: ForMatting

As I go through the Dragon Dice rules to put it into nicer, neater language, I've been finding what I want to propose as best practices for game rules. These are ForMatting notes, to help you be like me. What do you mean it is not awesome? I'll be applying these to other games I work on. Once I'm done this side project, I'll go back to my other diversionary games (check the Sablan Games tag!) to clean up their rules.

1. Clearly define your terms, and be consistent. Originally, in Dragon Dice, the rule book alternatively used "army" to mean one specific army at a specific terrain or reserves or as your entire force. I have changed that, so army only means the first and force is used for the second.

2. Choose a style, AP style, Chicago, etc., for commas and other grammar rules and be consistent. This is a no brainer,  but it needs to be said.

3. Give things an order, be it alphabetical or by cost. Players need to have a logical way to look at a book and find what they are looking for. Consistency helps players.

4. One thing Magic: The Gathering taught me: Have phases. Explain the order and nuances of these phases. The original dragon attack sequence didn't explain the significance of when units killed in the attack were moved to the dead unit area, or how dragons attacking a dragon attacking an army changed the second dragon's attack (it doesn't, but if it dies, players cannot kill the dragon).

5. Within those phases, clearly define what happens first. Before, it was unclear what order things happened, and you would have to hunt and peck to find things. Which brings us to another point: be self-referential. If you don't want to repeat text, tell the player where to turn to immediately to find what they want. And unlike some AP Style examples, don't have it just say: "Oh, see the term you just flipped away from." That is unhelpful.

6. It is OK to leave simple phrases undefined. You do not need a keyword for simple phrases, like this may only be used once a turn. Likewise, it is also OK to give flavorful terms to rules to make things more interesting. Terrain Advantage is boring; Safe Harbor is interesting.

7. Clarify what trumps what. No should always trump yes, the rules on the card overrule the rules in the book, etc.

8. Be like a scientist looking at animals. Lump like things together and put it in an order. There is no reason to start a discussion of another part of the game in the middle of a previous list/phase breakout. Rules should be sequitor, not non sequitur!

9. Make things short and digestible, unlike this piece. Also, never, ever, ever should marshmallow fluff and pretzel, crunchy rules appear in the same paragraph. If you do that, it is like dipping strawberries in warm, melted cheese. These are two wonderful things, but they do not go together.

10. The theme for number nine is that I am hungry and should stop writing right now.



The Air and Space museum has extended hours. You have fewer excuses for why you are not going.

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