Monday, July 20, 2020

The Besswox Design Notes which will not be in Beeswox

I've reached the point in assembling Beeswox (a flippintly-launched project I envisioned as taking a couple weeks which is now in its sixth month) of cutting things out to fit in my self-imposed limit of 64 pages (the traditional max size for saddle-stitch binding).

One of the bigger cuts is the last-page design notes. Normally I'm a big proponent of the writer taking a moment to explicitly explain how they approached the design and what they want it to do. But under my tight limits, that just was a reiteration things said elsewhere (PbtA games are nothing if not direct) and with some indulgent proselytizing on top, and that was a page of space better spent elsewise.

But still, I sweated over it enough that I hate to just dump it unseen, so here it is for future posterity (or embarrassment).

Design Notes

Beeswox was more or less begat by Offworlders, a space-adventure WoX-based game with some clever ideas for handling wealth and equipment. It offered a nimble and versatile system that, with just a little work, was easily turned to all sorts of genres and settings. In pursuing that expansion I incorporated bits from other WoX games and useful elaborations from the main Powered by the Apocalypse school. Putting all that together turned into this unified generic WoX rules-set I hadn’t realized I wanted.

But why World of Xat all? Why the ultra-lite fringe offshoot instead of the more prestigious main PbtA family it spawned from? As much as I respect the excellent work that has gone into many PbtA games, in practice I’ve found moving through their various formalized processes is a bit too esoteric for me. However, approaching those same excellent design principles through traditional elements like Hit Points, Experience Points and damage-rolls comes very easily.

Also, I’m all about minimal rules systems. Role-playing games for me are, before anything else, social gatherings for sharing imagination. The play I enjoy the most is filled with surprises and improvisation and joy sparked by communal creativity. And ever since I first put aside my D&D books in favor of Tunnels & Trolls, I’ve felt that using the fewest rules necessary encourages a focus on the natural conversation where all that great stuff happens. I prefer a sparse toolbox: some guidelines to structure the session, prompts to help the participants imagine the hell out of things, consequences to give a thrill of danger, and spurs to keep the pace up. Anything beyond that drags on momentum.

A significant secondary influence on Beeswox is the “Old School Renaissance.” Of course, given that the first WoX game, World of Dungeons, is a direct evocation of original D&D, and Offworlders is a near-emulation of original Traveller, not much more fine-tuning was needed in that direction, besides making allowances for open-table campaigning.

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