Chatty’s Dream Design Project: An Interactive Primer-RPG

Tomorrow will be one of the year’s slowest days on the Bloggosphere: the American Thanksgiving weekend. Of course, that’s when I feel the biggest urge to write in a long time.

But that’s never stopped me before.

So after asking my Twitter readers for inspiration (thanks Christian), I settled on a question that’s been on my mind for a long time:

Given no limits in ressources, time and talent, what would you design?

Hmm, that’s an easy one; I’d design something along the lines of the “Young Ladies’ Primer” found in Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. The Primer was a nano-computer with one main function, to act as an interactive smart-book that taught children through a long interactive storygame.

So when I say I’d like to do something like that, I’m not thinking about an actual book-shaped computer made with nanotech (although it would be cool), rather I’d like to do something that could, eventually, evolve into just that… with a tabletop RPG spin.

Here are the basic pitching points:

  • An application for a tablet PC like the iPad or the equivalent
  • The app features a richly illustrated (animated?) adventure story aimed at tweenagers, I’m thinking 8-12.
  • The story progressively  becomes fully interactive as a CRPG with elements such as dialog choices, character sheets, conflict resolution mechanics and character growth (XPs).
  • The game should last between 5 and 10 hours depending on side-quests completed.
  • A simple, yet complete set of tabletop RPG rules that allows readers to continue the adventures of the characters of the story
  • Stats for all main characters for the story and rules to make new ones.
  • A primer to teach parents how to play tabletop roleplaying games with tween-aged children, complete with advice on preparing new stories, inserting educational content (if needed) and letting the creativity of children drive the show.

The tabletop game would most likely be narrative-driven.  So far,  the mechanics that I envision fitting the most with what I need is  is John Harper’s Lady Blackbird as it has just the right amount of rules element (fitting on a demi-page) to make it into really enjoyable roleplaying game for people of all ages.

I don’t know if the technology is there yet or if parents would be interested in this, but as a customer, I’d snag such a product (and pay more than once for different stories) in a minute.

What about you? Do you like the idea? What elements would you like to see in such a app/story/game?

More importantly, if you were asked the same question I was, what would you design?


  1. So your dream game is a complex electronically-mediated introduction to Lady Blackbird (or your improved version of LB)? Why not start with Lady Blackbird? What value does electronic mediation offer that, say, a book does not? Or that just omitting that entire step does not?

  2. What LB doesn’t have, is an actual work of interactive fiction that, in itself, would be of interest to tweenagers. An adventure game that works in absentia of a GM (which makes it more accessible to young players and people who haven’t yet been introduced to RPGs). It then acts as a natural lead to an introduction to tabletop gaming as it gives the reader(s) to a path to collectively continue the story beyond the limits inherent to a tablet PC app.

    That being said, LB has struck me as the exact intersection of complexity, flexibility et ease of learning that I would seek in a game that parents can play with their children. The electronic format is me adding a dream over the canvas of what already exists today.

    Oh and thanks for the comment Jason and, more importantly, thanks for Fiasco, also among my top 5 games currently.

  3. The way I understand it. You talking of doing a RPG video game… Beside catering specially to a group that is rarely the target audience for such video game… Using a publish set of rule for a RPG as been done plenty of time with D&D.

    For the technological requirement, unless you want voice recognition as command input like in the diamond age “book” or wan’t a photo realistic depiction of event in the game I don’t see any problem. Even those could be done given the progress in voice recognition and 3d animation. It would add substantially to the cost and would not run on today’s tablets.

    The thing that get me confuse are your requirement 5 and 7. It seams like saying with the game comes the book that contains the rules for the basic mechanics it used internally.

    Given the premise: “Given no limits in ressources, time and talent, what would you design?”.
    It seems rather underwhelming since none of it seems really new… I mean take any RPG game based on D&D port it to iOs or Android tweak story to cater to the new audience and package an electronic D&D book with it and voilà… Then again the question was not what innovation you would bring to the world but what YOU would do… In that regards I totally understand that it’s something you would have liked to do given the opportunity.

    As for what I would do given no limit in resource, time and talent. I would start a non-profit gamer cooperative. Which for a yearly fee would give access to all the electronic game this cooperative would create and all the boardgames would be available for the shipping and manufacturing cost, all money collected would go into creating game and covering its expenses (not some share holder). This means that the more members it would have the more game it would create and the more games its member would get. Obviously to work you need a critical mass of member so you can pay your people and have enough people to tackle more then one game at a time in order to have multiple game released a year. But imagine a world where game quality does not get compromised because some share holder wants a ROI ASAP, and the games are sold at there manufacturing cost.

  4. As a 13 year old who is constantly trying to get one of his 10 year old brothers to do some type of roleplaying with him, this seems like a great idea. I think that it would help them enjoy RPGs because they would have access to a system would be tailored for their age, along with at least a decent story. Another reason that I think it would be very helpful is that the tweenagers would be able to create new adventures, and share them with their friends. One feature that I would include for sure would be the ability to create and share adventures. This is important, I feel, because a lot of a 8-12 year olds life revolves around friends, and letting each other see what they have created will encourage creativity, and increase the usefulness of the product. Overall, I would definitely buy something like this, either for myself, or my brothers.

    I would create a program that would allow a dungeon master to create an adventure, find players, and then play it over a computer, either live, or a sort of play by post. It would include a virtual game board, where the players and enemies could be seen, along with the scenery. Another feature it would include would be he ability of the dungeon master to alter the gaming system in any way he wants, giving him the ability to tailor the rules to his desires.

    On an unrelated note, I really enjoy your blog, and appreciate your innovations to roleplaying as a whole.

  5. That sounds like an amazing idea… Perhaps I should try coding it… (From a technical standpoint, it is not actually that complex…)

    As for myself, I would do a fully interactive ARG, featuring a large cast, and interaction on many levels.