Monday, September 30, 2013

Design Journal #1: Envisioning Play


Back in March I casually mentioned that I was writing a new game. This will be my first new game since I wrote “The Holmes and Watson Committee” back in 2009. And I’m excited, so I’m going to share my experiences with you. Hopefully, I can make it from design to published product. We’ll see.

The reason it’s taken so long are many. First, the publishing process has been extraordinarily painful for me. My first game was published in 2002. The printer problems and business mistakes we made back then were excruciating. I’ve talked about how taxing the publishing process can be in the past, the problems of 2002 and 2003 were the main reasons why. Not the only reasons, though. In 2008-2009 I tried my hand at publishing again. I figured by now the POD process had evolved and small press printing could be done efficiently and easy. WRONG! The same problems plagued me a second time and forced me to cancel a whole second line of books I wanted to produce.

It wasn’t just publishing though. In the last half-dozen years I’ve gotten married, had a child, got my master’s degree, switched positions at my job four times, and helped my wife get her master’s degree as well. Many in my family have gotten terribly ill (some terminally), and I’ve dealt with distractions of every kind and sort. I’ve not overcome all of these obstacles yet, but I’m hopeful that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. And once I’m through, I think I’ll have the chance to publish the game I want.

So now it’s been 11 years since my first publishing and four years since my last. What have I learned? Well, that’s easy to answer. Everything on this blog is about what I’ve learned! But the problem with what’s on this blog is that it’s not real enough. I haven’t put it into practice, or at least, haven’t in a very long time. So that’s what I’m going to do now. I’m going to practice what I preach.

So where do we start?

I’m going to start with my initial concept. I began with something I called the G.A.M.E. engine. You can follow that link to it on 1km1t. It was great, it was fun, I got some playtesting in. The problem was the advancement system is totally broken and I wasn’t willing to make the compromises it would take to fix it. So I had to move on.

I was inspired by Luke Crane’s We D&D threads which you can read about HERE, HERE, and HERE. I remembered back to the simplicity and awe I had in my first RPG experience (which was Middle-earth Roleplaying). Like SO many designers I wanted to recapture those moments. So I focused on the memories instead of the mechanics.

What did I remember?

1.We didn’t know the rules well enough to constantly be referencing them, so handling time was kept to a minimum.

2.We quickly grew tired of the constrained canonical setting of Middle-earth put on us, so we started making our own content to adventure in.

3.We focused on the combat and the loot, but our characters had motivations. They were simple ones (the Free Peoples vs. the Dark Lord), but the motivations supported gameplay.

4.Magic items were awesome, rare, and special. There were five characters in the party and after 27 collective levels, we maybe had seven magic items (it might have been less, honestly).

5.Making maps was a huge part of the fun- for both the GM and the players.

So that’s where I started with my new design: remembering something I enjoyed and setting that as my design goals. Those were the things that were going to matter most. Next time, I’ll explain how I went from abstract ideas to core design principles.



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