Tuesday, February 28, 2006

So what are we looking for?


This is the fourth and final in a series of shorter articles that will hopefully bring newer designers up to speed on the kinds of expectations I have for this blog and those who help in the Design forum on the Forge have for new games.

In the initial question, when I say “we” I mean “me.” Others can speak for themselves. These last few articles are really intended to get out there what I’d like to see here at Socratic Design and on other game design forums like those at the Forge, RPGnet, and Story Games. I’m not going to be very long winded about it (I hope), because it’s pretty simple.

I have four things I’m really looking for when it comes to deciding how interested I’m going to be in someone’s design:

1. The game is based off the idea that the author is trying to maximize some kind of fun he is already having.
2. The game breaks with Tradition in some way, shape or form.
3. A game where the designer is determined to avoid the publishing aspect of the Heartbreaker.
4. A game that will be finished in one form or another.

So what do I mean by these? First, if someone is designing a game “just cause”, “to participate in the community” or “for fun/an exercise” then it’s really a waste of my time and frankly anyone else’s. No offense. There are a certain number of minutes a day I (or anyone else) can devote to reading, reviewing, and offering advice on a game design. Personally, I would want to use those minutes to help someone who is serious about designing a game that he will use to enhance his fun and the fun of those he games with. I want the time I put in to helping someone to matter to more than just one other person.

Second, hey Traditional Games can be fun, but they’re well…Traditional. I’ve seen them before. What really sparks my interest is something new and different. Okay, you want to make a Fantasy RPG. How’s it going to be different from most of what I’ve seen before? Got a vampyre game? Sweet! What’s new? If you want to design a Traditional Game to get some experience in game design as David Chunn said, that’s fine. You want to really get my (and no doubt others’) interest sparked? Do something that’s out of the ordinary with your game. And I’m not saying you have to abandon every aspect of a Traditional RPG. Far from it. Even doing one thing in a wild and new way is righteous. I just want to encourage folks to expand their ideas beyond what’s been termed “regular” in the broader RPG community.

Three, if you’re planning on sinking thousands of dollars into a game that makes the same offering as say DnD, Vampire, or Rifts then I’m probably not going to help you. In fact I’ll hope that you get discouraged and scrap the design. Talking about three tiered marketing plans, building a network of games stores and distributors, and ignoring the internet/pdf market are big red flags for me. If you are an independent designer, then sinking gobs of money into trying to get your game “out there” into the public is a very risky endeavor- one that I’d advise avoiding in the early part of your production and publication. The last three questions of the Power 19 will tell me a lot about your plans for the future of your game. Consider them carefully.

Last, I hate helping people who just flame out two months later. No doubt in my mind they had a gem of an idea, but gave up anyway. That sucks. I hate it for them because I know if they could have just finished it, they could have added a verse to the chorus of games indie designers are producing. Heck, I probably would have bought a copy. So please, if you start a game, work to finish it. I’m always available to help.

Speaking of being available, let me establish this right now. If you would like some feedback from me on your design, feel free to post a reply to any article on this blog. I don’t care if it’s off topic or not. The main mission of Socratic Design is to help newer designers get started and get finished. So I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to lend a hand. Now I’d *prefer* to talk about your game on your blog (if you have one) or on a forum like the Forge or RPGnet. So including a link to such a place would be helpful. But if none of that is a possibility, this is an open space for feedback and response. Consider the welcome mat dusted off and the door wide open :-)

In closing, I hope that nothing I’ve said here sounds harsh. But if it does, think about it in this way. I’m truly after people who want to design and publish an RPG. I’m serious about it, and I want them to be serious too. We’re all in this fight to publish together, and I want to be the most effective resource I can for you. Meeting those four requirements above will help me be that.




Frank said...


As you may be aware, I've been really struggling with Troll Slayer. Part of the problem is that what my ideal would be is to see Cold Iron published. Unfortunately, I just plain don't see that happening. So I have this goal of publishing something that captures what I love about Cold Iron, but doesn't infringe on Mark Christiansen's copyright. I'm open to refining things, and I can see at least a few things on your traditional game characteristics list that I want to buck. But I don't want to do a complete redesign (in fact, part of my dropping the project for now was that I felt like I was designing just to design, not because the part that I was re-designing was actually broken).

Am I just totally on a busted track with that plan? And if so, any suggestions? I'd love to spread the word of Cold Iron, but can't in good faith (sure, I have stuff posted, and I do tell folks about it, but I only point them there when they have specific questions).

I suppose I should save my energy for designing some kind of cool LEGO RPG that somehow really takes advantage of the re-useability and construction nature of LEGO. And maybe I'll do that sometime when I don't feel a burning need to put my energy into Cold Iron play.


Troy_Costisick said...

Heya Frank,

I thought Troll Slayer had some good potential, but the honest truth is if your heart isn't in it, set the game aside. If you aren't 100% sold out to a game design, then it will show when people read it. If you're uninterested, apathetic, disapointed, bored, whatever with your design, so will be the people who read it. Your attitude will be expressed by the written words whether you do it intentionally or not.

Just set it on the back burner for now and then come back to in down the road. That may be a month, that may be ten years. However long it is, just set it aside for now. You're making the right decision for the game, and you don't have to feel guilty about that. :)



Frank said...

Thanks. I think it will actually help that I'm finally trying out some of these indie games. When I'm ready to start working on Troll Slayer again, I'll be more ready to focus on my ideal for an old schoolish gamist design with miniatures style tactical combat.

In the meantime, I'm looking forward to some rousing fun with Dogs, both playing and GMinf, plus we're switching to Burning Wheel for our regular game.

And just maybe I'll get a great spark of an idea for a LEGO based game...


Psiweapon said...

Hey Troy. I've been reading through this blog and it's amazing. It's a shame that you haven't written in so long.

My plea: I think I have a clinical heartbreaker. I'm going to finish it anyway, just because I want to see it finished (and because it's my biggest project so far) - but can I diminish it's heartbreaker-ness and still keep its spirit? It'd be incredibly cool if you contacted me at p s i w e a p o n @ g m a i l . c o m.