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You Don't Know Fiddly


And Brethren, it came to pass in those days...it came to pass...that a whole generation grew up in the darkness. Yessir, a whole generation grew up without the light. A WHOLE generation without guidance, for no one was there to show the way.

Yes, my friends, a whole generation grew and passed on. Not a one of them--not a one!--knew the joy that we share today. A whole generation passed without knowing the joys of Fiddly. A sad thing it was, brothers and sisters. They didn't know Fiddly.

What is Fiddly?

Some folks have held Fiddly forth as a science. Fiddly, it is said, is the application of Occam's Razor to game design. Under this premise, Fiddly is tweaking the bits and pieces of a game so that they appear in their simplest form.

Others maintain that Fiddly is an art form. The beauty, they say, is found in the gestalt of the whole, the interaction of the bits and pieces as they come together. Fiddly is seen as melding the interior vision with the external presentation in an intuitive, artistic manner.

Still others believe in Fiddly as a spiritual exercise. The essence of finding the Truth involves searching through alternatives and finding that which most resonates. Fiddly, in this case, is as much for enlightenment in process as it is for use.

The approach taken in this column will be none of the above, and all of them. Fiddly is presented as a craft. Occam's Razor applies to Fiddly, as does an intuitive understanding of vision. The search for enlightenment leads to a juggling of bits and pieces and finally a better piece of work emerges under the craftsman's hands. Sometimes, the Right stuff emerges, material which satisfies all of the approaches fully.

In practical terms, Fiddly is looking at portions of games--mechanics or settings or whatever--and analyzing how they fit into the whole of the game, and what can be done to provide a better fit, or standing in awe of superior execution of material.

What does Fiddly do?

To be exact, Fiddly does nothing. Those who practice Fiddly, however, are restless souls always searching for something to appreciate in their games. Bits and pieces are studied to learn how good things are built and to admire the builder's craft. Other bits and pieces provide an opportunity to exercise personal skills at game-building and make something better.

In other words, Fiddly is a process of sorts, geared for looking closely at parts of games and seeing how the bits fit together, for better or worse. Fiddly is an attempt to understand what is being presented and make that message abundantly clear.

Who knows Fiddly?

Most gamers, the masses who play a single game regularly with only minor excursions into other systems, miss out on the enjoyment of Fiddly. With their adherence to the tyranny of a single rules system, they fail to find the joy in seeing many different visions. They don't know Fiddly.

There are gamers that collect many different systems, just to constantly see new systems up close and personal. Although this does provide for a good reference library--something True Practitioners love to have available--in itself this does not indicate understanding. They don't know Fiddly.

A small group of gamers believe that a thorough understanding of what each section of rules is supposed to achieve is essential to thoroughly enjoying the game. Furthermore, these gamers tinker with the game in an attempt to find a better fashion of achieving the ends inherent in the original design. They fiddle with the bits, altering them to enable efficient, elegant operation. They know Fiddly.

What is not Fiddly?

Fiddly is not an attempt to force an outside view upon the game, however. Many gamers take the approach that there's a single best way to build section of rules to make games better, and then try to add that system to whatever rules they currently favor. Those folks attempting to graft a non-class-based skill system onto the tree of AD&D, for example, don't know Fiddly. The heart of AD&D is the archetype/class structure, and stepping outside of that defeats the major purpose of using the archetypes to begin with.

Fiddly is not sewing parts together, adding electricity, and proclaiming "It lives!" Taking favorite parts of favorite systems is surgery befitting Dr. Frankenstein, and not an exercise suitable for craftsmen. Gamers involved in this sort of exercise may know their own preferences quite well, but they certainly don't know Fiddly.

What is this column about?

This column is about Fiddly. That's it. Each installment will examine some aspect of some game and Fiddle with it. The part may be huge, but most likely will be just a part, and not necessarily an important one. Game mechanics are obvious choices for Fiddling, but setting materials also can provide great enjoyment.

In a fashion then, this column will be about game design. It will not be an instructional course presenting the One True Way to design and develop a game, but will be about crafting details. The essence of a game lies in the designer's overall presentation of the material, but it is the details that allow that essence to be readily communicated. This column is dedicated to examining the details and working to let them show the designer's intent as clearly as possible.

Feedback encouraged to fiddly@rpg.net!

All Fiddly Bits columns by Larry D. Hols

  • FID 223: Analysis of die-roll methods by Torben Mogensen, 18jun02
  • Another Change February 28, 2002
  • Fiddly 101: 101 Character Classes November 28, 2001
  • Fiddly 101: Character Classes, Part Two: The Nuts and Bolts September 20, 2001
  • Fiddly 101: Character Classes August 23, 2001
  • In the Beginning... June 21, 2001
  • New Directions May 18, 2001
  • In Defense of Heroism April 25, 2000
  • A Philosophy of Realism December 30, 1999
  • A Philosophy of Fightin' Words November 9, 1999
  • The Philosophical Question May 18, 1999
  • Whittlin' Fiddly February 23, 1999
  • Fiddly to the Rescue, Part Two January 19, 1999
  • Fiddly to the Rescue December 15, 1998
  • Old-Fashioned Fiddly November 17, 1998
  • You Don't Know Fiddly September 22, 1998

    Other columns at RPGnet

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