on May 30, 2013, 5:48 a.m.
Against the Dark Yogi Beta 2 is nearing its end, and I figured I'd take the time to talk about a subject of game design on which I've given a good deal of thought: the use of keywords.
In Against the Dark Yogi and in several older Saga Machine products you will notice that we use keywords to tag various traits and consequences. Keywords can be an easy way to categorize aspects of games into groups, and a good hook for mechanics to work off of. For example, certain effects may only apply to physical traits, and it can be easy to distinguish those traits if they all have the "Physical" keyword.
Magic the Gathering is an example of a game that makes great use of keywords. Some enchantments may apply only to "elves," so the player simply has to look at her creature cards and see which ones are marked with the "elf" keyword. Even the basic card types such as "artifact" or "creature" can be thought of as keywords, listed right on the cards.
On the other hand, keywords can also be problematic. This is particularly the case when the list of possible keywords is long, and individual lists mix keywords that have implied mechanics with those who do not.
For example, in D&D 4e powers have lists of keywords. Some of these are simply hooks for other mechanics ("Fire" or "Implement"), while others have mechanics implied by the use of the keyword ("Reliable" or "Area"). These keywords are freely mixed and they require players to know what each of them means when reading and judging the value of a power, as they can drastically affect the power's uses.
Looking at the last two betas of Against the Dark Yogi the use of keywords unfortunately falls more in line with mixing those with innate mechanics ("Siddhi" or "Weakness") and those with simple descriptors ("Combat" or "HP"). As such, the next beta is likely to see a dramatic revision in the game's use of keywords, dropping most of the descriptors and focusing specifically on a small handful of keywords that have important effects. In this way a trait might only have one or two keywords, and players will only need to remember three of four effects.