Tuesday, February 27, 2007

RPG Design Contest


If you haven't heard, Story Games is down. On another blog Andy (the guy who runs the site) and another guy (Mark) mentioned that you could write an RPG in the time that SG takes to get back up. What a great idea! So I started a contest on the Forge. The rules are this:

-Get it finished before SG is back up
-Use the basic rules of 24 Hour RPG (except the time limit)
-Encorperate the theme BLACKOUT in some way, shape or form.

Okay, get to work guys! Let's see what you got!



A Rare Chance


One of the biggest influences on me as a young game designer was John Wick. Back in 2000 he wrote a series of game design articles about a game called Orkworld. This was one of the first games that could truly be considered an "Independant RPG." I think Ron Edward's Sorcerer came out just a year ahead of Orkworld. Anyway, John is making a great offer (click here). Until 12pm (noon) on Wednesday, February 28th, you can get eight of his games on PDF (normally $55) for only $25. That's a great deal, IMO. You do have to have a PayPal account, but if you contact him personally, you might be able to make some other kind of arangement. I don't know. But if you are new to RPG design, I highly recomend this. If you like John Wick games, I highly recomend this. Heck, if you just like RPGs I highly recomend this :)



Tuesday, February 20, 2007

What is the Future of RPGs?


I promise to get to more practical design focused articles very soon, but this is a question that comes up a lot. I thought it could be a useful discussion to have from a design perspective rather than an industry perspective as it is usually done. Sometimes as engineers (and game designers can look at themselves as a “kind” of engineer) it is good to examine where one’s products may need to evolve without regarding current restraints or lack of technology. It is a thinking exercise that may (or may not) pay huge dividends in the future. Imagine if you could create a tabletop RPG without any constraints on mechanics, technology, or delivery formats. That’s what I plan to do here. So, if I gaze into my crystal d20 I may see RPGs in the future that incorporate these following design elements:

=The MySpace/YouTube Culture: This isn’t about MySpace or YouTube per se. There has been a trend in the trendy “new thing of the week” department over the last 5 years or so. Look at the names of the following products or services: MySpace, YouTube, iPod, iPhone, Windows ME. Notice a common theme? Bingo! And on the first try, too. Each of these products glorifies “self.” Our culture, especially American culture, is becoming more and more radically individualist. The newest things are all about “me me me!” Social commentary on this phenomenon is meant for another place, but as RPG designers we should take note of this grown self-obsession in our world.

In the future, I believe that successful RPGs will need to include facets of the players’ real lives into the actual mechanics of the game. I have to stop and give Ron Edwards and his game Zero at the Bone some credit for first suggesting this. But it is something I am increasingly coming to believe. Players in the future will want to display themselves in front of their fellow players and be recognized socially for their own merits, flaws, and experiences. Games that incorporate a player’s real life interests, flaws, fears, aspirations, relationships, indulgences and so on will strike a cord with the MySpace Generation.

Want to appeal to new players? Give them ownership of the mechanics of the game. Make the game about them, and they will buy it.

=A Return to the Box (and Board): Role-playing games are games, right? (I do not wish to debate what “game” means, take it to another board) However, most RPGs are sold in the textbook, user manual or comic book style. In the future, I can see RPGs returning to the old fashioned “boxed game” model. RPGs will need to package themselves more like board games, which are hugely successful and getting more diverse all the time, to attract new customers.

In the last two decades, boxed RPGs have fallen out of favor for a number of reasons. Expense and the fact that book sellers find it easier to stock books rather than boxes are two of the big ones. In the future, the boxing of an RPG with helpful maps, graphic organizers, character sheets, tips sheets, miniatures, a physical game space (like a board or grid), quick start manuals, and a letter from the designer will be much cheaper and just as available as POD printing is today. Or at least for RPGs to successfully go back to the Box Model, it will have to get cheaper and more readily available. I can picture a company like Lulu pioneering this return.

Anyway, with a return to the Box, RPGs can position themselves more in competition with board games- which is a much wider audience. Imagine walking down the game aisle at Wal-mart or Toy-R-Us and seeing next to stacks of Monopoly and Scrabble The Shadow of Yesterday, Buring Empires, My Life With Master, and The Mountain Witch all in shiny boxes with maps, tips sheets, actual play examples, and letters from Luke, Clinton, and Tim. Pretty cool, huh?

= Next Gen Customization: GURPS and D20 are examples of games that are customizable. However, they are HUMONGOUS! Sifting through the rhemes of material these two systems provide can take days if not weeks. Then, you have to get everyone to agree what books are in and what books are out. It’s cumbersome and time consuming. But this isn’t meant to be a complain session about GURPS or d20. Let’s think about customization in the future.

First, the core system would have to be both free and available for purchase. A good looking PDF could be put up for free on the Internet and at the same time the company could sell a low cost and adequate print version for those who prefer a manual to hold in their hands. The system would be a bare minimum. It might even be as simple as just the Resolution system of the game with a few examples. Everything else would be up to the players- literally. The designer(s) would add components to the game based on orders from the players. Each person who paid a certain fee would have whatever he wanted for the game designed, printed, and mailed directly to him (or if he preferred PDF, sent through email). If he wanted a character creation system that was just for elves, he’d pay the $20 fee and the designer would write a character creation book about elves for him. If he wanted rules for using laser blasters, he’d pay the $20 fee and get a book on lasers.

This is very similar to what Greg Stolze does on his site with the Ransom model. However, this is totally customer driven. The designer would lean on a few design motifs to keep things consistent, but each book would be unique and personalized for the customer and his needs. Come to think of this, I believe Jonathan Walton mentioned doing something sort of along these lines around GenCon last year. But this is on a much gander and focused scale. Every customer would get his own version of the game based on his vision and play preferences.

=Serial RPGs (aka the Metaplot Reborn): Eeeeeeeeew, metaplots! Get over it. The “metaplot” isn’t such a bad idea in and of itself. The problem lies in customers getting overwhelmed by dozens and dozens of splat books that move it along before they are ready. A Serial RPG would be a game that starts characters in a small location with a gripping story. The book would be small itself. Containing only the first “chapter” of the plot. At the fastest, a new book would be released every 3-4 months. More likely, a new book each every 6-12 months would open up a larger and larger section of the plot/game-world/story-arc.

They main thing with this kind of Serial RPG that a designer would have to keep in mind would be that he could not tell the players how to play their characters or exactly how they should participate in the evolving plot. That would a difficult balance to maintain and at present I have no idea how it could be done. That’s for a future designer to discover and implement ;)

Anyone who does implement a Serial RPG in this manner would also need to release Anthologies every now and then. These Anthologies would include all the books previously released for the story-arc. This way new players could be brought into the game line. A Serial style of RPG design has the advantage of creating a loyal and constant audience and therefore a high likelihood of repeat buyers.

=Hybrid RPGs: The main competition, as far as adventure games go, for RPGs are video games. This includes everything from computer games to console games to MMORPGs. Once upon a time video games were just part of a geek culture when only a few people had Ataris or Nintendos. Now electronic gaming (thanks to the Internet, Microsoft, Wii, and Madden Football) has gone mainstream. Tabletop role-playing games in the future will need to capitalize on the prevalence of electronics in our society.

Role-playing games will eventually incorporate MP3’s or Podcasts into their design. A company’s blog will add game content and features to the core rules of the games themselves. Videos on places like MySpace or YouTube or Flickr will be readily accessible to gaming groups and offer examples of play or new content. Interactive Maps, artwork, puzzles, dice rollers, riddles, and even sound bites posted on the Internet would be the type of features a game designer will have at his fingertips to weave right into the mechanics of his game. These things could be downloaded into an iPod, PDA, or Laptop for use at the gaming table. These features would either be pay-for-play items with a free core rule book or a set of free features that enhance a core rule book that is available for purchase.

In the future, technology will be seamless integrated into a game’s mechanics.

=The eBook: I’m not sure how this sort of thing will impact RPGs (here is an example made by Sony). It could be a lot, it could be zilch. The basic idea of this thing is that you can download electronic books on to it and read them like a regular book. This would take PDF publishing to the next level. In the future, it may even be possible to add three dimensional objects to such a book or incorporate movies or animations of some kind that demonstrate how to play the game. Being able to quickly and tangibly flip from page to page to reference charts, tables, and rules could be a real advantage for RPGs. I could even see voice activated eBooks that will respond to commands like, “Show me a picture of a vampire…” or “Turn to page 83…” Games that figure out how to maximize the potential of a product like this will have a leg up in finding a new audience.

Of course, all of this is cloud talk. It may happen; it may not. But the object of this article is to provoke thought in the area of RPG design. We need to look beyond the current mechanics and delivery formats we use to what might be over the next horizon. Independent RPG designers are especially nimble enough to maximize the potential use of new formats and technology. So this post is mainly meant to say, “Where we are is good. Where we will be is better. Let’s start thinking about how we can change everything.”



Wednesday, February 07, 2007

What is a Fulfillment Service?


I’m really heavy into the publication and sales side of game design right now, so my articles are germane to that. Today, I’m just briefly going to talk about fulfillment services. I am not currently using any of them for my own reasons, but I highly recommend them to any new author. There are several companies that can handle and have experience in handling the distribution and sale of independent RPGs.

IPR (Indie Press Revolution): IPR is run by Brennan Taylor and Simon Rogers. This company has burst on the scene and really changed things for independent RPG publishers. I have heard nothing but positive reports about them, and they even have their OWN PODCAST where they talk about their company with Paul Tevis. Personally, I believe IPR is one of the most significant developments for independent publishers to come along in a long time. They do have a certain standard RPGs have to meet in order to be carried there, but for the most part all independent RPG publishers are welcome.

Key20: Key20 has been around longer than IPR and has some long time relationships with small press publishers like Ron Edwards and Luke Crane. They usually run a booth at conventions like GenCon and have established relationships with distributors and game stores alike. They do a good job of catering to the small publisher and do a very good job of promoting the products of the companies they represent.

Lulu: Lulu is both a POD (print on demand) printer and a fulfillment service. You can take care of both needs at once through this company. They have their own storefront where both PDFs and books can be bought and sold. For a newer publisher looking to simplify things, Lulu is not a bad choice. Their printing prices are a little higher than some other POD printers, but if you go with their fulfillment service, it may be well worth it to save on the headaches.

With all three organizations, you need to really research them. Only one may be right for you, or all three may fit your needs. To my knowledge, none of them have any kind of exclusivity requirements, so you can go with as many as you like. Just carefully read over the terms of agreement and be sure you will get what you want out of it.