Weekly Update 9/24/13 & Tone in Games

I’m going to try making these updates a little more interesting by taking some time to write about game design concepts in addition to the short updates on my games. The first thing I want to talk about is tone in games. When we play games, or at least when I play them, the tone of the game has a huge affect on the amount of enjoyment players receive from a game. For instance, is the game heavy on player interaction or is it more solitary? Are the players playing against the game or against the other players? Does every game that has lots of player interaction have the same tone? No, tone is more complicated than that. A game with lots of player interactions that create complications for the player (I.E. worker placement) is completely different in tone from a game that has a lot of interactions that remove something from the player (I.E. resource stealing). Not only do the game mechanics create a tone but the art work, fluff text, and complexity of the game also contribute to a games tone, Munchkin for example has lot’s of humor in both its art and its mechanics and wouldn’t be nearly as humorous if either of those aspects were removed from the game.

So why am I talking about tone? Because I believe that to make an amazing game you need ton have a clear concept of the tone you want to set and make sure that you consistently present that tone throughout the game. Several times during my short time as a game designer I’ve removed specific actions the players could take or even whole mechanics not because they were bad mechanics but because didn’t fit well with the tone I was trying to foster throughout the game. You need to be careful you don’t shift tone or create dissonance within the game. Shifting tone in a game is similar to changing perspective mid paragraph, you should try to stay away from it unless you really, really, really, know what you’re doing. I’ve had it happen in my games when a particular action was far more harmful to players than the rest of the available actions and players felt bad for being that “mean” to the other players, the action was balanced but didn’t fit with the games tone. Dissonance, I’ve found, happens mostly when you focus to much on the raw mechanics of the game or lose sight of the tone you’re trying to maintain. For example if you’re making a game set in a dark grim post apocalyptic realist world you probably shouldn’t make all the cards have cheesy jokes on them. I’m not saying you couldn’t incorporate humor into the game, but there’s much better options, like going with dark humor or making the setting lighter. Tone is a complex part of what makes games enjoyable. Some people have strong preferences in the tone of their games others might not have as much. Some games are designed with one tone in mind from start to finish while others evolve a tone over time. I personally favor the evolving tone because I prefer formulating mechanics and then working towards a cohesive tone rather than picking a tone and then finding mechanics that fit the tone.


Elementary is still bouncing around in my head. I’m going to remove scoring from some of the equipment that provides resources to make it a more pronounced choice for the player, resources or easy points. I’m also working on creating some new spells to add to the spell deck and reworking how many spells players can have in play as well as how they acquire them. Over the week I had another idea for a drafting game, I’m starting to sense a theme in the game ideas i have, that revolves around the players being adventuring guild drafting adventurers to become the best guild in all the lands. It’s still in the very early conceptual phase though so there’s not much more to say about it.

Thanks for reading and as always if you are interested in helping play test please send me an E-mail and I’ll get you copies of the PnP kit.



About Elderhaven

Elderhaven is a small game design studio.

Posted on September 24, 2013, in Elementary, Projects and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Great post. This is something I’m working through in creating my RPG, even though I have a fairly uniform audience and I know all of the players very well.
    My blog is similar to yours, check it out if you’re interested. I’m creating a custom-made RPG for some friends who are new to the hobby, and my page is just a place for me to write about the considerations I’ve dealt with so far. Most recently I’ve had to think about how I will handle character death.

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