Spark RPG at Metatopia 2012

I have just returned from Metatopia 2012, the amazing convention run by Double Exposure over in New Jersey each November. This was my first experience at Metatopia, but it has absolutely stolen my heart. Not only was Vinny amazing as usual in organizing the event despite the minor inconvenience of a Hurricane, we even managed to get the critical mass of game designers necessary to have 2 parallel game design seminar tracks going and a vast number of playtest sessions.

Critical mass is absolutely the correct description of Metatopia. The brain trust in those rooms was phenomenal, and it’s evident when listening to the recordings (say, GM’less play) that the discussions were at a high level of sophistication.

Whereas I have found many GenCon panels are by necessity, collage, or undergraduate level in complexity, I found Metatopia panels were closer to Masters or Doctorate level. Perhaps less useful for the budding designer, but absolutely priceless to those of us with a enough of a foundation to participate. Pity there wasn’t enough time to participate in all of it, or spend some time gaming with more of these fine ladies and gentlemen.

On the topic of panels, I recorded a large number of these and have coordinated with others (including Fred Hicks and Jason Morningstar) to get more coverage. I will be starting up a podcast feed shortly, specifically for the purpose of distributing RPG Game Design seminar recordings. My current working title on that is “The RPG Design Panelcast”, and I expect to have at least one episode drop within a week or two. You should be able to find them here on my site, or on Itunes.

The underlying reason why I was attending Metatopia was to determine if Spark is ready to go forward. The first of the playtest sessions was full of experienced Jeepform and Nordic Larp pros who tested the hardcore version of the game, diving into play while dealing with highly-sensitive subjects and beliefs that were personally meaningful to the players. The feedback was that the mechanics of the game pulled out of immersion enough that there was little *Bleed*. The described the game as being an interesting intellectual exercise, but not one that is inherently transmitting emotion to the player. This feedback gave me an incredible amount of comfort, as it meant that my game was less emotionally risky to any potential players, and that it encourages the kind of philosophical introspection I was looking for.

The second playtest was originally intended to be targeting experienced Burning Wheel players, but strangely enough, I didn’t get a large group of those fans. Instead, I got a lovely playtest session with two masters of the system: Jeff and Emily. These two were kind enough to playtest Spark _twice_ at Dreamation, then joined me once more for my Metatopia test. With their assistance, I tested how a 2-player game worked and cleaned up the Influence economy. They even helped me test out a proposed change to my scene framing rules, which I wound up rejecting due to their excellent feedback.

The fundamental thing that came out of both sessions was a sense of confidence. This was one of the first times that I tested the game and the experience of play felt natural. I feel that I am ready to finalize the text, to get a final editing pass done, and to start planning for my kickstarter.

Thank you all.

Step Die System Probabilities

During one of my recent playtests, one of the testers with extensive scientific credentials expressed some misgivings about the statistical underpinnings of the resolution system of Spark RPG.  In appreciation for his concerns, I decided to spend a few hours and produce a comprehensive probability chart so this would be out in the open.

The basic system is that two different people will roll dice and add a static bonus to their result.   The size of die can be D4, D6, D8, D10, D12 or D20.  The bonuses scale from +0 to +6.  This leads to a total of 1764 potential permutations on the chart I have below. For reference, the X axis is the actor and the Y axis is the reactor; with the probability in each cell equal to the chance that X will succeed in the conflict.  I hope this will be of some use to someone.  If you find any errors, please don’t hesistate to notify me so I can make the appropriate corrections.

Spark Probability Tables




While you are all digesting the latest version of Spark, I wanted to give you a bit of an update on the editing situation. Good editing is essential to the success of a roleplaying game, and for my flagship product, I am making every effort to impress. That’s why I’m pleased to announce that I have four editors lined up to contribute to this project.

My Lead Editor, charged with doing most of the heavy lifting, is David A. Hill Jr. of Machine Age Productions. He will be examining the mechanics, analyzing the procedures and ensuring that the text is as inclusive as possible. You may know Machine Age Productions from some of their successful games such as Machine Zeit, Amaranthine, Farewell to Fear and Guestbook.

The first of my Assistant Editors is Queenie Thayer who is charged with improving the writing itself. She is my last line of defense against grammatical and spelling errors, charged with bringing my text into understandable English. She has already contributed to the text in the first version of the beta and I am pleased to have her on my side.

The second Assistant Editor is Gus Belanger, who has contributed to games such as Alpha Omega.  (  He is my general-purpose editor, who I assign to look over each of the drafts of my game and give me an honest & critical assessment of the various changes.

Last, but certainly not least, is Mark Richardson, a good friend and long time GM who is diving headfirst into Indie Game Design. In addition to the revisions and comments on each of my drafts, he is also running a playtest session of Spark that I am observing in action, so that I can correct the game as I go.

With talent like this, I am certain that Spark will be a smashing success.

Happy gaming!

Spark RPG Open Beta – Version 3.5

Hello everyone,

I have definitely learned a great deal during this open beta process so far.  I want to explain the evolution of the game before I point you at the last version of the open beta text.


Version 1

The extensive feedback and the original AP from The Walking Eye podcast led me to restructure the text, to provide extensive example text and generally refine the game. Version 1 showed me that the world-building component of the game is one of its strengths. It also pointed out that some of the mechanics encouraged the wrong kinds of adversarial behaviours in players. This led to some major revisions to the text, which I managed to get out a few days before GenCon.


Version 2

Version 2 was a more solid version of the game. I reorganized the text and integrated much of the advice directly into the procedures of play. I also wrote a running example of play in the the setting creation, character creation and gameplay chapters. This version had slightly cleaner formatting, but time pressures kept me from tinkering with it too much.

My GenCon 2012 experience was a real eye-opener. I was able to get 3-4 playtests of version 2 at Games on Demand rules with mixed results. All of the tests of the Setting creation process went amazingly well, even with players who had little exposure to story games.  I ran into some challenges with the gameplay sections though. The mechanics _worked_, but there were far too many moving parts for me to effectively teach the game in that context. I realized that in a 2-hour time-slot, I spent a major portion of that time teaching the rules rather than actually playing the game.

In the last of these game sessions, I was fortunate enough to have Timo of the Jankcast  playing in my game on the Saturday afternoon. His excellent comments forced me to give an honest and critical look at the game.  The core mechanics, which I originally designed several years ago, were showing their age. While playtesting helped me refine the system and I had many excellent mechanics in there, the overall structure wasn’t serving my design goal for Spark. That is when I came to the decision to rip out the core resolution system and restart it from first principles.

Version 3

Saturday night I sat down with my text, crossed out the Collaboration and Conflict sections of the text, and got to work. The new system that I wrote up is much more elegant and does actually reinforce the desired behaviour of challenging your Beliefs.  I chatted at length with Timo, where he looked over my proposed version of the text and gave me his thoughts.

I brought this version of the rules with me the next day when I ran a 4-hour playtest of the game for the crew of The Walking Eye. That game session, which you can find as a bonus episode of The Walking Eye , was a blast. It gave me much needed confidence that I was on the right path.  You can find that episode here!


Version 3.5

Over the last month, I have used all of the GenCon feedback to create a new revision of the open beta of the game.  Version 3.5 is now freely available right Here.   This will be the last version of the text that I will post as part of the Open Beta, but I will extend the beta until November 1st 2012.

I would really appreciate any feedback and playtesting that you can provide on this last version. I want to make sure that this revamped version of the game is as solid as possible.

Thank you all.

GenCon 2012 Seminar Recordings

I always love to attend GenCon and record as many seminars as I can. This year is no exception, and I had the honour to speak on two separate panels. While I still have to work on my presentation skills, I feel like people got a great deal out of those panels.

This year, the most excellent Jason Morningstar of Bully Pulpit fame was on six different seminar panels and recorded each of them. With his permission, I provide them here for your listening pleasure.

Here are the recordings in no particular order. I will try to link to the presenters websites whenever possible.

Introduction to Indie RPG’s

Special thanks to “This Just In from GenCon” for some editing and posting this in their feed.

Event Number: SEM1230671


Jason Pitre (

Kirin Robinson (

Kit La Touche (

Elizabeth Shoemaker Sampat (Regrets) (

Link to the Recording


Introduction to Playtesting RPG’s

Event Number: SEM1233486


Jason Pitre (

Adam Koebel (

Link to the Recording

Secrets of RPG Editing

Event Number: SEM1232354


Paizo Managing Editor F. Wesley Schneider (

Paizo Editor Judy Baur (

Paizo Editor Chris Carey, (

Paizo Editor Patrick Renie (

Link to the Recording



Jason Morningstar’s Recordings

These raw recordings have been taken directly from a post by Jason Morningstar on, with the files uploaded to my own site for posterity.


Introduction to GMless Play

This is me by myself rambling about GMless games for an hour. Link to Recording


The International RPG Scene

This is me and Dominic McDowall-Thomas . I spend a lot of time being excited about Japan. Link to Recording

Introduction to Nordic Larp

Me, Emily Care Boss , Lizzie Stark , Aleksi Airaksinen , Ville Takanen and Joonas IIvonen . As the least clued-in guy in the room I took the role of questioning moderator. Link to Recording


Volatility in Game Design

Me and James Ernest . Or, really, James Ernest’s well thought out and useful lecture on volatility with an occasional unhelpful comment from me. Link to Recording

History, Panic and History Panic

Me and Kenneth Hite talking about how to love gaming in history and still not be a total dick. Link to Recording

From Indie Cradle to Indie Grave: Making Independent Games

Me and James Ernest, mostly talking about business-y stuff. Link to Recording


GenCon 2011 Seminar Recordings can be found Here.