Thursday, April 27, 2006

Another Process


This is a follow-up to Troy’s 12 Step Process. Another game author responded to my article and gave his design process. It’s a good read, IMO. You can check it out here: Mike Miller’s Blog Talk.

I’ll give you a brief outline of what he says his process is like. Before he begins, he divides the process into two distinct activities: Designing and Writing.

1st he designs his game at the genre level. He brainstorms about tropes, issues, conflicts, fun, etc. Generally, he accumulates a pool of ideas and emotions he associates with the initial game concept.

2nd he focuses on player interactions and behaviors. Followed closely by mechanical enforcement and reinforcement of those behaviors.

3rd he does some self-testing of various and potential resolution mechanics, all the while keeping the main themes of the genre in mind.

4th he takes it to trusted advisors. He does not even have a complete draft at this point. It is, essentially, an oral game, not a written game yet.

5th Notes from the closed playtest with his friends become the basis for the rules of the game.

After explaining the game in a verbal a sufficient number of times, he converts it to written form. The writing process is also broken down into stages.

1st is the outline stage, giving himself a template to follow.

2nd is the draft stage, where he creates the first complete written version of the game.

3rd, interestingly, he gets his artists working on graphics for the game.

4th he sends the game to an external reader who makes notes, suggestions, and edits.

5th the test-revision-test-revision process begins until he is satisfied that he has a complete and playable game ready to go.

It’s very interesting and very good to get multiple viewpoints on the RPG design process. Note that Mike relies very heavily on trusted friends. Relationships with people who think and play in ways similar to him are the key to his design process. He has built these relationships over years, I would assume, and uses them to help build his games. If you have friends like Mike, I encourage you to think about using this process or hybridizing it with the 12 step process I gave earlier. It will take practice and experimentation to find the process that works best for you. Good luck!



Saturday, April 22, 2006

Where can I get Art for my Game?


One of the things I’m working on right now is getting art together for the games I’m about to release. I’m on a pretty tight budget at the moment, so economical art is really what I’m after. I imagine you are too. So to help out, here’s a list of links I’ve been using to fill in the spaces for my games:

Ed Heil’s Art Trove:
Ed has done the RPG world a favor here. He’s got a collection very good art and an equally generous offer. You get access to all the drawings on this website for only 25 bucks! Not only that, he’ll draw another picture for you according to your specifications. If you’re new to RPG design, let me let you in on something- this is a steal! Take Ed up on it.

Dover Art:
For years Dover Publishing has been releasing “clip art” type books. You can use up to 10 images per book without violating any copyright laws. If you want to use more, just write them and ask. You can find books on almost any subject here. I own over twenty at the moment. This is another high recommend. Oh, and I recommend that you order the books that come with CDs if you can. They’re a little more expensive, but scanning art is a pain and can have certain complications as far as fuzziness and resolution scale of the images.

MSN Clip Art:
Clip art can serve a purpose to help break up a page or add in small designs for stuff like page numbers and backgrounds. I don’t recommend making a whole book out of clip art, but you should be able to find some useful images here. They are free to download, so help yourself!

As much as I loathe and despise Wikipedia for academic reasons, I hail Wikimedia as a gift from heaven. There are tons of free pictures here that are very applicable to RPG designs. Make sure you read the warnings at the bottom of each picture. Some require accreditation and some aren’t actually free. But if you’re working on your game setting, especially if it’s based on a real place (like London or New York for instance), then this website is an answer to your prayers.

RPGNow Stock Art:
RPGNow has several pieces and collections of Stock Art for sale. It can really vary in price and usefulness, but if you’re in a pinch, you might be able to find something here. Of all the options I’m mentioning, this will be the most expensive. But remember, these guys are just trying to make a buck just like you. They should charge whatever they feel they can get for their product.

So anyway, I hope that helps some of you out. I know from experience how much of a pain getting art can be. Good luck to you guys :)



Monday, April 17, 2006

What is Troy's 12 Step Process?

What is the design process?


By now if you’ve been reading this blog, if you haven’t go back and look over the stuff in the Anthology #1, you’ve seen me introduce thoughts and suggestions on various aspects of design. Sometimes I’ve talked about components (Death Spiral, Magic, Situation) and sometimes about tools (Big Three, Alt 3, Power 19). What I haven’t really talked about is a process to use these things. So here’s what I’m going to do today. I’m going to show you the process I’ve used on my games like Cutthroat, Hierarchy, and Holmes and Watson. Perhaps, it will help you out also and perhaps someone can offer an alternate or better version of a design process.

#1-Initial idea-

The first stage is generating a game idea. I carry around two spiral notebooks wherever I go, and I’m never very far from a computer. In the notebooks I jot down any game idea that comes to me. I feverishly write down all my thoughts without worrying about if the idea is workable or playable. The reason is that I forget stuff very easily. If I focus on working out all the details right away, I’ll miss the next wave of inspiration when it comes. This is just a brain storming exercise at this point.


After several days or weeks of jotting notes, I sit down in front of my computer and type up everything I’ve written down. I organize it, categorize it, and delete redundant or extraneous ideas. It’s at this point where I actually see what I’ve created and where my imagination was going with this.

#3-The Big Three/The Power 19-

After gathering up all my notes and ideas, I see if I can answer the Big Three about the game. Usually I can, but if I can’t, I know that either it’s not a game I can make or I need to do more work. If the Big Three come easily, I set to work on the Power 19. I meticulously go through them and answer as many as I can. Sometimes the answer is “I don’t know yet” or “Not applicable” which is just fine.


Once I have the Power 19 in hand, I’m ready for feedback on the Internet. Whether I post my answers or I post a more general idea of what I plan on creating depends on what I need for the game design to progress further. Feedback is important because it will point out gaps and inconsistencies that the Power 19 or other design tools aren’t able address. Sometimes I take the advice and run with it. Sometimes I politely say thank you and go with my original idea. I wish I could give you some method of knowing when to do which, but it’s very much based on the individual who is designing the game.


After feedback, it’s time to rethink things. Questions like “Can I finish this?”, “Is this game worthy of being finished?”, or “Will this game be enjoyable if I do finish it?” are the way I approach this phase. If I can answer yes to all three, then it’s time to get to work. Reexamining the Key Components is the next step I take in the Rethinking process. I call Key Components of a RPG design the following: Chargen, Resolution, Reward Cycles, Currencies, and Color. Using the feedback I have gotten, I explore how each of these areas of the game can be improved and how they relate to one another. Once I have that done, I’m ready for the draft.

#6-First Draft-

The First Draft comes in at the 6th stage of the design for me. I think a lot of people start at the draft stage and get overwhelmed by the project. I really encourage people to make an outline, use the Power 19, or come up with some other sort of devise to organize and categorize their design thoughts before attempting to write a playable draft. The work of writing an RPG, even one that’s only 50 pages or so, is immense. Breaking it up into smaller parts helps make the job more manageable. In any event, for me, the first draft is intended to be a coherent, readable, and playable version of the game. This is the “Alpha” design stage.


Getting feedback on a draft used to be the hardest stage for me. Mostly because I couldn’t figure out how to share the draft. Now, with so many designers having their own websites, it’s easy to get someone to help out in that department. I gotta thank Blankshield Press for helping me out with Cutthroat in that regard. They were awesome about helping me out. And there are many more out there willing to help just like them. Anyway, posting your draft on the ‘net and getting people’s reactions is the next stage. It’s here where your game will really be molded into the RPG it wants to be. Even though you’ve already done a lot of work, expect many more changes to your game to come as a result of this stage. Be persistent here. Sometimes it can be deflating when no one responds to your posts. Keep trying and try on many websites. The Forge, RPGnet, and Story Games are all open forums for this sort of thing.


After getting feedback on the draft, it’s time to revise. This step is pretty simple. Choose the feedback that makes the most sense and adapt it to your game. Disregard the feedback that doesn’t make sense to you or that simply praises your design. Sadly, praise isn’t all that helpful when it comes to revising a draft. You may revise your draft, post it again for more feed back, revise it again, post, and repeat this process many times. Once your revisions are finished (at least for now), it’s time for the most fun and most agonizing part of RPG design.


Playtesting is fun because you get to actually play! But it is also excruciating because it is slow, shows SO many weaknesses and ambiguities in your game, and requires constant revision. When I playtest, there is one thing I hold as important. That one thing is to play the full playtest session with the rules as they are currently written. I don’t change the rules midstream during a session just because we hit a bump in the road. Like any new game, it can take while to learn the system. Allow for that learning curve to take place before changing anything. Also, it’s hard to know how playable your draft was if you keep changing things constantly as you go. Playtesting needs to give you a clear picture of what your game is like and can do. It can’t do that, in my opinion, if you’re constantly stirring the waters with new ideas and mechanics on the spot.


Our old friend Revision is back. This time we take the feedback from the playtest sessions and use that to upgrade and revise the game. It will probably take several “playtest and revise” cycles for you to get a design hammered into shape. There’s no exact number, but I can definitely tell you it is greater than one. Somwhere in the middle of these cycles, you ought to open up the playtesting to groups outside your direct influence. The feedback you get from them will be invaluable.


After playtesting and revision, its good to open your game up for one final round of feedback on the ‘net. This is when they can point out what sections of your game need more words, better clarification, and more examples. It’s really helpful if people who have never read your game before are able to look at it at this point. A fresh set of eyes will usually find the vagaries and oversights in a design. Get as many people to read it as possible. And for heaven’s sakes don’t worry about someone stealing your design and publishing it before you do. That’s one of the biggest mental obstacles new designers face. No one is going to steal your design and publish it. They might take inspiration from your mechanics and write their own game, but that’s only good for you! More than likely they will mention your game as they write theirs and, boom! that's free advertising for you. Never fear about someone swooping in and taking credit for your work.


With the final feedback in hand, you are ready for what will likely be the last revision. At this point your game will probably not be perfect. But here’s the truth when it comes to that. Your game will never be “perfect.” At some point, you will have to cut off the playtesting, revision, and feedback. If you don’t, you’ll never publish the darn thing, and publishing your game will teach you more about the whole process than you can possibly imagine. Double check your spelling, grammar, punctuation, make an index and table of contents, get a cover, and do the layout. These are the last parts of revision you will pass through for your game. So the only thing left is the business stuff of publishing, and that’s a post for another time. :)

I hope that the process I use will be helpful to some of you out there also. I’m sure that many other designers have different and fascinating methods they use as well. Check into the processes used by designers you admire and see if you can adapt them to your style. As always, questions are always welcome here at Socratic Design :)



Tuesday, April 04, 2006

How can Magic be used in an RPG?


First let me apologize for not posting in a while. Real life has been quite busy lately, and I’ve been participating in the Game Chef competition, which took up a lot of time. I’ve also been revising my upcoming RPGs (Cutthroat, Hierarchy, Standoff!) which is going well but not quickly. So anyway, I’m back. :)

Okay, back to the question at hand. Magic (and I include under that term things like mad science, alchemy, psionics, super powers, etc.) can often be a real obstacle in game design. The temptation to add it can be strong, but the ability to “do it right” is sometimes elusive. John H. Kim has some interesting articles and HERE that might be useful reading, though I plan to take a slightly different tack on the subject.

The title of this article might be a little misleading. This essay is not intended to give suggestions about how magic spells might be cast and/or created in a game, but what purpose magic can serve in a game design. The problem I run into personally, and can see in other games that are in the design stage, is a failure to focus the purpose of magic in the design. To me, I see three major purposes that magic can serve in a game’s design: Tool, Hazard, or Theme (motif).

If you are thinking about using magic in your game, there are three questions you need to ask yourself:

1. Is magic a tool the player-characters can use to accomplish their goals?

2. Is magic a tool the GM (or opposing player) can use to add hazards/danger to the situation the player-characters face?

3. Is magic a neutral element of the Setting’s theme?

The absolute worst answer is a knee-jerk “All three!”

Magic, mechanically speaking, is just one of many possible design elements (including weapons, technology, monsters, equipment, etc.). Its presence in a game can be useful to GMs, Players, Both, or Neither. Whatever you decide, magic in your game should matter. Using it should reinforce what your game is about and not just be something tacked on because “people like it.” Let’s look at, what I think, are some good answers to the above three questions.

--Answer 1A: Magic is a tactical tool used by players to enhance their options in contests.
--Answer 1B: Magic is a tool used by players to create effects that are necessary to advance the game’s events (ie A Story Telling Device).
--Answer 1C: Magic is used by the players to differentiate the player-characters from each other.
--Answer 1D: Magic is an exclusive, balancing tool used by the players to overcome other, equally potent resources used by the GM.

--Answer 2A: Magic is a tactical tool used by the GM to enhance his options in contests.
--Answer 2B: Magic is a tool used by GM to create effects that are necessary to advance the game’s events (ie A Story Telling Device).
--Answer 2C: Magic is a tool used by the GM to thwart and/or challenge the abilities and intentions of the player-characters.
--Answer 2D: Magic itself is the enemy the player-characters must overcome.

--Answer 3A: Magic is a tool used to circumvent normal conventions and allow necessary game elements to appear in the game that otherwise would have been forbidden or out-of-place.
--Answer 3B: Magic is used to create the Situation that the players will address in the game.
--Answer 3C: Magic is used as Color to enhance the description of the Setting.
--Answer 3D: Magic is an inherent element in all things that raises the overall threat level in contests.

Each of these answers focuses the use of magic in a specific way. They aren’t talking about a gigantic list of spells in the back of the book for anyone to use or not use however they see fit. They denote explicitly how magic will be useful in play.

When you are deciding what role magic will play in your game design, imagine what a session of play should look like. Then ask:

-Would magic help or harm play?
-What impact on strategic options would adding or subtracting magic have?
-Who would benefit from the availability of magic?
-Who would suffer from the availability of magic?
-Who could and who could not use magic?
-When could the use of magic be inappropriate?
-Does the magic help reinforce what this game is supposed to be about?

I’m sure there’s more I could come up with, but these are a good start. Question, and examine everything. Truthfully, it’s important to ask yourself these sorts of questions concerning each of your design elements as you go. Magic is just one of many possibilities that I happened to focus on today.