OWLBEARS 2 Design Notes

March 7, 2009

This all started when I was shown the original Owlbears game. I thought it was a hilarious read, and wished that it would exist in some kind of playable form that wasn’t likely to end up with someone getting hurt. Preferably something suited to IRC, my preferred roleplaying environment. I had a concept for a regular RPG version of the game, one that had things like initiative and enemies lists and gear with stats and all that jazz. That all got pushed to the back of my mind, and in retrospect, it would have ruined the spirit of the game.

Later, I decided it might not be such a bad idea to try to create a version of the game for pbp play for the SA Traditional Games Discussion design contest. I knew I wanted the game to focus on narration, since that’s one of the big strengths of pbp. I also wanted it to run without requiring a central authority figure to approve actions or posts, so I decided that the GM wouldn’t have to approve of every action.

At this point, I was thinking of the resolution mechanic, and how to make it more transparent to avoid breaking the game’s flavor. I’m not sure why, but those weird sound-words struck me as a perfect thing to count up, and 9 year olds make that kind of noise all the time. I chose to limit the sound-words (I’m too sleepy to remember how to spell what it’s actually called, though I know how to pronounce it) in order to keep people from spamming the same word over and over, and considered allowing people to re-use words based on how many words were in the post and how many posts had passed since they were used. FOr example, if you used BIFF POW KA-BLAM in one post, you couldn’t use any of those words for three more posts.

I ended up nixing that rule when I realized I didn’t want to bog the game down in too much more system, and I didn’t think it would add anything that the game really needed. I had an idea for an encounter-crafting system too, where the game would have a list of adjectives like “Big” or “Angry” or “Elite Squad of” or “A million”, each of which would add a number of POWS (my working mechanical term for the sound-words) to the encounter. I stopped going this route when I realized that there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to make an encounter more powerful, and it added a weird meta-game where you had to restrict the encounters to a specific list. Since the game has no GM, the players would have to make the encounters themselves, and it lost its point really quickly.

There was also a point in conception where I considered writing THE OWLBEARS as a 1980s saturday morning cartoon show styled game, but after some talk with friends, we decided that it would have been death to the tone, and those shows were too focused on morals to really keep the tone. 9 year olds want to beat up bad guys, sure, but often in a hyperviolent and silly way that you wondn’t see on TV. They might want to tear a ninja in half, but tearing aninja in half wouldn’t kill himor anything, it’d just beat them up.

I’m tired, this is all I have to share for my notes now. Might have more later. A good chunk of the design process was cutting away ideas that I felt wouldn’t significantly contribute to the game, that I believed would just take up rules space without making the game any more fun to play.