Review: Fundamentals of Role-Playing Game Design by Ernest Adams

Title: Fundamentals of Role-Playing Games
Author: Ernest Adams
Year: 2014

Summary: Very short introductory book on traditional role-playing game design considerations. Not bad if you know nothing about RPGs and need a quick primer, but not recommended for serious reading.

fundamentals of role-playing game design

This will be a short review since the book is rather short.

Fundamentals of Role-Playing Game Design one one of a larger series of short ebooks that Ernest Adams has written covering different genres of games, such as sports, strategy, simulation, puzzles, and so on. The book is very short – a little over 50 pages – and only available in ebook format.

Out of all the books I’ve collected, I have not found any that seek to go into detail on a single genre and dissect that from a design point of view. When I stumbled upon Adams’s collection of titles that seemed to cover exactly that I decided to pick one of them up and review it to see if it was worth diving into the series. After this one, though, I probably won’t pick any of the others up.

Fundamentals of Role-Playing Game Design reads like an introduction to the genre to someone who has never played a role-playing game before but has some knowledge about games or gameplay. It is very basic and only covers fairly traditional role-playing game design conventions (dice rolling, character sheets, magic systems), covering mainstays like Dungeons & Dragons or Planescape: Torment.

The book acts as more of a survey of what is done, why, and when some decisions are better or worse than others – for example, different inventory management strategies or dialogue/story branching structures. The book could have been much longer, and I was hoping it would have a more solid foundation on role-playing games including tabletop and LARPing. The author alludes to these and other considerations but claims that there’s not enough room in this book to cover them in depth.

I wouldn’t recommend the book for active game developers or people who know a lot about the genre. As a student I may have found a book like this on strategy games (which Adams has also written) helpful for getting me up to speed on a genre of games I had practically zero familiarity with at the time. I suspect that the series is meant as individual supplements to follow-up from Adams’s Fundamentals of Game Design, a much larger and more comprehensive textbook.

The book ultimately fails for me because it is just too short to do the topic justice. A book on role-playing game design could easily fill an entire textbook and even knowing the page count ahead of time I found myself disappointed.

1 Comment on “Review: Fundamentals of Role-Playing Game Design by Ernest Adams

  1. It’s called “Fundamentals” for a reason. :) As you are a professional game designer, you’re not the intended audience.

    You are correct that it is meant to apply the principles taught in the main textbook to the specific genre of role-playing.

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