I was turned onto Raph Koster’s (lead developer of Ultima Online) site awhile back, but I have to admit I hadn’t been there in awhile until Alexis over at Tao of D&D referenced this post about game design thought out in game difficulty modes. From the post:
Basically, these are the difficulty levels for game designers. Easy mode is the cop-out game adaptation, the easy answer. A more adventurous team might go for normal mode. But Hard and Nightmare are the regions we rarely venture to in games… some would argue because they aren’t commercial enough. But the movies mentioned all get these points across — in commercially successful content even… so why couldn’t the games?
Raph goes on to describe several games as designed with various modes of difficulty. Now, the thing about a good RPG, and I certainly hope Lost Worlds will be that someday, is that I think the design of the rules themselves are trying to get out of the way of the people playing – and that the combination of GMs and players, far moreso than the game designer of the framework, determine what mode we’re all playing on.
Because of the hierarchy, it’s simple to judge “Easy Mode” as worse than Hard Mode, although I don’t think that’s true. If RPGs are a diversion for you, you may not want a game that, as Alexis puts it, “forces players to question who they are, challenging their belief systems while psychologically re-engineering their habits and expectations..” Though I’d love to give that game a try sometime, that type of game would be hard, not just to create and run as the GM, but to play in. Of course, that’s the point of Raph’s analogy.
I wonder too if Alexis would have a rebuke for me here as well. I just think people are looking for games with different difficulties – and even the same person might want to play games at different difficulties. Sometimes I want to read Crime and Punishment, and sometimes I want to watch Indiana Jones. I think the same applies to gaming.