RPG Design Overview Sheet

I have a tradition of running RPG design workshops in my local community, either at local gaming conventions or as part of Game Chef. It’s always a great time, but I often feel a need for more robust tools to help new game designers. That’s why I prepared the RPG Design Overview Sheet

The basic principle underlying this little tool is the idea of limited resources. Designers need to account for the amount of complexity associated with their designs, and to prioritize the elements they find most important for the desired play experience. Certain focused games in the story games tradition may be quite streamlined, emphasizing very specific kinds of play experiences.  Other, more traditional game may be structured for versatility and diverse play experiences instead. In all these cases, the designers has made intentional choices which this sheet can capture.

Game Design Sheet - Spark

 

 


In terms of the overall purpose of the exercise, it’s two-fold. Firstly, the intent was to establish a foundational document at the start of a game design project. This foundational document would fill the same general role as the old power 19, allowing designers to both examine their design and discuss it fruitful with others.

The second purpose of the sheet is the potential of using those as snapshots of different game designs. I could foresee a reference document full of the things so that someone could cross-reference designer intent with mechanics/experiences in play. It would be a fascinating to use this tool to document a single game from a variety of different perspectives.


Game Design Sheet - D&D 4E


What do you think? Where this could be adjusted to be a more useful tool for designers young and old?

 

Where Credit is Due

A similar idea has already emerged independently in the Larpwright community, and would be worth your attention. https://nordiclarp.org/wiki/The_Mixing_Desk_of_Larp

The Big Three questions (at the top the sheet) were created by Jared Sorensen of Memento Mori Theatrix.

The types of engagement are derived from Marc “MAHK” LeBlanc (http://8kindsoffun.com/)

Basic Budgeting for Developing Indie Tabletop RPGs

The Price of Publishing

The independent roleplaying game scene is fantastically accessible, relative to other forms of game publishing. One of the challenges for a new game publisher is in determining an initial budget for their projects. I’m here to help you with some advice on how to allocate your scare resources.

Before we get started, I recommend you check out the excellent article on publishing costs that Fred Hicks published a couple years back. http://www.deadlyfredly.com/2014/10/dd-mysterious/ When you are done with Fred’s article, come on back and we will get started.

Set-up Costs

There are a ton of potential expenses in the world of publishing, but here is the basic set of affordable tools that have served me well in my publishing career. Grab these as early as your career as possible, and allocate some time for learning.

  • A word processing program. The free options are the open-source LibreOffice, or potentially Google Docs. When you have the resources down the line, Microsoft Office is pretty commonly used.
  • A photo-manipulation program. I personally love the free, open-source program known as The GIMP and use it to this day. Adobe Photoshop is another option for this role, though it’s costly.
  • A vector illustration program. I use the free, open-source program Inkscape, and it will serve you well. Adobe Illustrator is another commercial option, though it is costly.
  • A layout program, such as the free, open source program Scribus or the more expensive and professional Adobe InDesign.
  • An ebook format program, specifically the open source program Calibre.
  • The Non-Designer’s Design Book, by Robin Williams. This should cost you about $25 USD, and it’s worth every penny.
  • A copy of Scrivener, by Literature and Latte. This should cost you about $40 USD, and I have found it to be an invaluable tool for outlining and initial drafting of RPG texts.
  • A variety of free or pay-what-you-want RPG texts, including Fate Core (http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/114903/Fate-Core-System) , Dungeon World (http://acodispo.github.io/Dungeon-World-HTML-SRD/ ) , Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition (http://dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules ) and Lady Blackbird (http://www.onesevendesign.com/ladyblackbird/)

For those who have been counting, the baseline costs for those items above is about $65 USD or $100 CAD. For publishers with some additional resources, an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription will let you get the tools for #2, #3 and #4 for relatively cheap.


 

General Publishing Expenses

Expenses for game publishing tend to fall in a few categories. When I say “Day”, I mean a morning writing sprint or an evening after work. Most of my weekends tend to have 3-4 “Days” worth of writing when I’m productive.

  • Writing, both mechanics and fiction. I tend to assume I can produce about 500 words of high-quality text in a day, for budgeting purposes. If I hire freelance writers to do this work, the baseline rate of pay is 5 cents per word.
  • Playtesting. I tend to give myself a playtesting budget of 1 playtest per 1000 words of text as a rule of thumb.  I call each playtest about a day worth of effort, both for the day itself and for the revision process afterwards.
  • Editing, both developmental editing (structural) and copy editing (grammar). Since it is impossible to effectively edit your own work, I budget 2-3 cents a word for freelance editors.
  • Art is extremely variable, and can be a place where you save or invest a great deal of money. Fred’s blog gives some great numbers for planning purposes. Don’t forget to consider public domain images, creative commons, and icons (thenounproject.com or game-icons.net).
  • Layout can be done affordably with some skill, patience and time. If you do it yourself, allocate about a day per 1000 words of text you are laying out. This assumes that you don’t have the necessary skill-set and you are learning the tools. If you want to hire it out, decent baseline prices are in the $500 to $1500 range.  
  • Production is highly variable, and will be discounted from this. For the purposes of this budgeting exercise, I assume that any print products are produced via DrivethruRPG Print on Demand service, which has no up-front cost and thus can be excluded from these discussions.

Books are Beautiful


 

Microgame Budget

This category of games are the smallest in scope, usually associated with game design competitions such as Game Chef. These are the thought-pieces, experimental works, and highly focussed designs. My own (award-winning) game Posthuman Pathways falls in this category, for example, as would Lady Blackbird.

For a project this size, your wordcount tends to be 4000-6000 words. A bare-bones budget for a microgame assumes that most of the investment is in time. I will use 5000 as the baseline, which tends to come to about 20 pages of a digest-size book.

  • Writing: Approximately 10 days of solid writing.
  • Playtesting: 5 playtests, which includes another 5 days for revision.
  • Editing: For a bare-bones editing, hiring an editor at 2 cents/word will cost you $100 for this.
  • Art: If your text is minimal and you use free sources of art, you will only really need a cover. You may be able to secure re-use rights for ~$150, if you can find a suitable piece in an artist’s portfolio.
  • Layout: By doing this yourself, it will take approximately 5 days of work to lay-out the work.Posthuman Pathways

Total Resources: 20 days of work, $250

Adding Extras: If you want to add additional resources to a microgame, commission additional art; 2 half-page images and 2 spot-images, which would run you about $150 according to Fred’s numbers. I would also recommend another 5 days, dedicated to playtesting the text (to ensure clarity) and polishing the prose. Microgames often have less tolerance for unclear language, so your game would benefit from the additional time.

For Reference: Real-world budget of a microgame: Posthuman Pathways (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/Jagash/posthuman-pathways/posts/887880)

 


Indie Game Budget

The story game community has a long history of producing games that are full of narrative complexity, but relatively small in size relative to the traditional RPG products. These tend to be commercially viable products that can be sold in stores easily and often amass a following.

For a project this size, your wordcount tends to be 20k-40k words. Producing a professional quality product at this scale is not an easy task, but it’s often worth it. I will use 30,000 words as the baseline, and assume this is about 120 pages.

  • Writing: Approximately 60 days of writing and revising.
  • Playtesting: 15 playtests if it’s based on an established system, 30 if it’s a brand-new resolution system. About 20 more days of additional revision work.
  • Editing: Hiring an editor at the minimum of 2 cents/word will cost you $600 for this. If you expect multiple revision passes or significant developmental editing work, allocate another cent/word for the additional work by that editor or another one.
  • Art: For a piece this size, you are likely going to need a new custom cover (~$400), at least six half-page pieces ($300), and at least 8 quarter page pieces ($200). I tend to go very light on commissioned art in my work and have had to be creative, but that will only go so far. These numbers will allow you to put in one piece of art for every 10 pages, which is light in terms of art, but some layout tricks can help minimize this.
  • Layout: Layout for a project like this is a big task. By doing this yourself, it will take approximately 60 days of work, assuming you have already learned the basic skills and have all the resources necessary.  You may be able to get someone to lay this out for you for $1500, and that’s a _fantastic_ use of kickstarter funds, but I will assume you do it yourself.

Total Resources: 140 days of work, $1500

Adding Extras: If you have extra resources, I would strongly recommend paying the additional amount for editing ($300), adding some full-page art pieces ($400) and another $300 worth of smaller pieces. Hiring someone someone to do professional layout (~$1500) is expensive, but also shaves two months of your own work off the timeline and will get you a much better product while you are at it. You could spend some of that additional time playtesting the text, demonstrating the game at conventions and preparing additional material.

 

For Reference: Sig: The City BetweenKickstarterCover

My latest kickstarter project was in this category although with a smaller wordcount and with full colour interiors. I allocated $750 to editing, $750 to art, and about $200 for indexing work. I cheated heavily on the art budget by reusing parts of the cover, and intentionally making the text align with some of Gustave Dore’s public domain work.

 

 


 

Major Game Budget

This is for the Fate Cores, Dungeon Worlds or Urban Shadows of the world; hefty and impressive games that usually hit about 60K-100K. I have yet to produce a game of this size, but here is how I would roughly budget for a project of this scope based on my current knowledge set.

Games of this size depend on kickstarter for development/production costs, and offset print runs. These tend to be about 300 pages of digest sized text, or 200 of a larger, letter-sized book. All of these prices are based on a 75K book.

  • Writing: This would take about 5 months of dedicated writing time. Even if the publisher is the lead on the project, I would recommend hiring freelance writers for at least a third of the book. (~$1,250)
  • Playtesting: Of all of the elements, playtesting needs to be scaled up the least. I would still recommend about 50-75 playtests if possible. About 2 months of additional revision work would be needed.
  • Editing: Hiring a pair of editors; one developmental and one for copyediting will cost you at least $2000 for this, and likely closer to $3000.
  • Art: I don’t honestly know where to start. A stunning cover (~$750) and at least $2000 of additional art would probably do the trick, but this would depend heavily on your specific needs. By reference, my quick count for Urban Shadows (at my side) had at least 25 full-page greyscale pieces, which would run $2,500 when using Fred’s numbers.
  • Layout: You are paying for a professional for this, unless your name happens to be John Harper or Daniel Solis. Budget $2000-2500 for this.

Total Resources: ~6 months of work, ~$9000


 

Comments?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Did I over-allocate funding in any given category? Skimping too much on editing? This is all more art than science, and I would love your wisdom. I’m especially interested in additional information to revise the Major Game budget numbers.

(Note, article has have taken 3-4 days of writing time, no editing costs, and re-uses art. No layout costs. )

Five Questions on Sig (with Brie!)

This fantastic interview was originally posted by Brie Sheldon over at http://www.briecs.com/ Check it out!

Five or So Questions with Jason Pitre on Sig!

Today I have an interview with Jason Pitre about Sig, his new expansion for his previously released game, Spark. It’s currently on Kickstarter!

Tell me about Sig. What excites you about it?

What is Sig? That questions has a lot more to it than you might think.

On the surface, Sig is an expansion for my previous game, the Spark RPG. It presents a vast new multiplanar fantasy setting to explore. It offers with mechanical refinements and new tools for storytelling. It’s even designed to encourage collaborative world building during play, as characters explore the infinite multiverse.

That’s not what the setting is really about though.

Sig is the platonic ideal of a city. Cities are actually rather strange places, when you think about them. Thousands of living, breathing souls crammed together in a small patch of land. Every city has some residents whose roots run deep, with generations upon generations residing in the same neighbourhoods. Other residents are newcomers, from near or from distant lands. Cities thrive based on the industriousness of their inhabitants, creating wonders of art, craft and ideas that spread on an international scale. Cities are hungry places, devouring obscene amounts of resources from the surrounding countryside. They are places where religions clash, where ethnic groups mix, and where languages change.

Sig is a lens through which I was able to delve deeply into what a city really means. It gave me a chance to explore how a cosmopolitan city functions and how the vast diversity of the world interacts. It’s a place to focus on those cast out by society, and those laden with privilege. It speaks of how immigration, community-building and gentrification will change the nature of neighbourhoods. Issues of class, of race, of sexuality and of gender identify are all part of the constant dialogue of the City Between.

This sounds fascinating! Can you tell me a little about the mechanical side of Sig? How does Sig tie into Spark, functionally?

So, in order to talk about the mechanics of Sig, I need to give a bit of a primer for the original core system of Spark. Spark was first, big project that I kickstarted back in 2013. It was a game about building worlds and challenging your beliefs within them. The two pillars of the game are those two key activities.

In Spark, you build worlds together. Each person names one of their favourite pieces of media; a book, game, comic, song or the like. Each person then identifies one thing about that media that really inspires them; perhaps the cosmopolitan markets of Babylon 5 or the sass of Rat Queens. As a group, you mix some of those inspirations to create facts about the world you are creating, until you have a solid framework. Those then get fleshed out by discussing the fundamental Beliefs of the setting; things like “Might makes right”, “The Emissaries are traitors” or “Love is stronger than anger”. These Beliefs inspire the various organizations that make up the world, and drive play. It’s a fun mini-game to build exciting settings that contain a little bit of everyone’s personal contributions. I even expanded that into a free product titled “A Spark in Fate Core”, which adapted that to Fate.

The rest of the game is about challenging, or confronting, your Beliefs. Like the setting itself, each character has three Beliefs. Over the course of a number of scenes, the player collaboratively establish scenes, collaborate to roleplay freely, and enter conflicts when people disagree on what should happen next. Each of these situations gives the characters the opportunities to discover evidence that refutes or supports their Beliefs, which provides a currency known as Influence. Players spend Influence to win conflicts they would otherwise lose, to avoid paying the price of victory for conflicts that they do indeed win, and to change the Beliefs of other characters.

Sig runs off the same basic foundation, but adapts it somewhat. While the Spark RPG presents four character attributes (Body, Heart, Mind & Spark), Sig reduces them to two (Spark & Smoke). Sig cares less about how conflicts are won, and more about why they are engaged in. That’s why in Sig, there is explicit discussion of Heritage (ethnicity/species), of urban Factions (guilds) and of the Powers (gods) they serve. These social ties also give the characters more ability to call upon external support through political leverage and divine rituals. The most important NPCs are also expressions of those social ties, sharing heritage, factional loyalty and religious convictions with the PCs.

Can you give examples of stories we could tell with Sig?

The stories of Sig tend to be strangely personal and emotionally gripping dramas with a vast, bizarre multiverse in a backdrop.

One of my friends played a gender-fluid ghost sex-worker who appears to people as lost loved ones and was paid in memories. They aspired to become the god of Lost Children.
Another player was a half-giantess whose conflicted relationship with her massive mother and her frail father drove her.
A third was a bestial, massive man who taught the orphans of Sig, telling himself in the dark of night that his mother hadn’t abandoned him.

Now, there may have been homocidal godlings, raging kaiju, or dragon armies involved in some of those games, but the personal stories are what stay with me.


As someone creating an expansion for an original game, what suggestions do you have for other creators, based on your experience?

Expanding on existing games is tough, both for creative and logistical reasons.

First thing to keep track of is the fact that supplements only sell a fraction of what corebooks do. Even in the good old days of the TSR boxed sets, those expansions and settings barely paid for themselves. If you want to build an expansion, you have to be absolutely sure that the product is compelling.

You need to make sure that your expansion aligns with and supports your core game, keeping the content close enough to be familiar. Paradoxically, the expansion also needs to push boundaries, offering new mechanical systems and fictional ideals to work with. It needs to broaden the scope of play, or examine one specific facet of the core book in detail.

Expansions are difficult things to create, but a successful one can breathe new life into a game.

Interested? Check out the Sig Kickstarter campaign!
KickstarterCover

Sig: The City Between is now Kickstarting!

There is only one true city; a place of multiversal trade, cultural exchange, and mixed blood. A place where monsters come to scheme and gods come to die.

Sig: The City Between is the nexus of the multiverse. It’s a city connected to everywhere, a refuge for the oppressed and a prize for tyrants. It’s a place where culture is at the forefront, with diverse faiths and tongues struggling for space in the crowded metropolis. It’s a city of families, both whole and broken.

Sig is also a launching point, allowing fools and heroes to venture into the eternal planes of existence. Each plane is made of concepts, of elements, or of ideals that resonate through the entire ‘verse. The planes impose their own Beliefs on Sig, and on the infinite primal worlds beyond.

Each of the planes is also home to unique peoples, from the Giants of the Elemental Plane of Stone to the Wyrms of the Ideological Plane of Destruction. The planes are home to mighty Powers; gods, demons, and stranger things which send their servitors to spread their faith into the City Between. The planes even offer resources to the bickering political Factions and warring guilds that control Sig’s hungry streets.

Visit the Elemental Plane of Flame to test yourself in scorched wastelands of the Crucible. Seek answers to hidden secrets in the Umbral Delta of the Conceptual Plane of Shadow. Defend yourself in The Final Court, where the Seven Magistrates provide final remedy to any injustice.
KickstarterCover
#WelcomeToSig

Back it over at https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/Jagash/sig-the-city-between and spread the word!

 

 

Indie Gems 2 – Dream Askew

Dream Askew

Designed by Avery Mcdaldno and published by Buried Without Ceremony

Available at http://buriedwithoutceremony.com/

A queer enclave in the apocalypse

Roleplaying games have a power in them. They invite you to embody the lives of others and discover what challenges others face. They allow peoples to express facets of their own identity in the safe companionship of friends.  They foster greater understanding in a multitude of ways. Dream Askew, from Avery Mcdaldno, does all these things and more.

On the surface, the game seems to be a simple derivation of the classic Apocalypse World. Avery had done a great deal of design in that space with projects including the amazing game Monsterhearts as well Simple World. Avery gives a compelling pitch for the game on what makes this particular iteration different from the core conceit of Apocalypse World:

Imagine that the apocalypse didn’t happen everywhere at the same time. Instead, it happened in waves. It’s still happening in waves. You were hit recently. You’ve fallen out of the society intact. You’ve found others who you can relate to, and you’ve banded together with them to form a queer enclave. Gangs roam the apocalyptic rubble, and scarcity is becoming the norm. And just beyond our everyday perception, howling and hungry, there exists a psychic maelstrom.

Dream Askew is a game about post-apocalyptic lives. It’s a game that queers the post-apocalyptic genre, exploring how the apocalyptic process could impact our sexuality, genders, livelihoods, experiences of marginalization, and experiences of liberation.

On first glance, it seems only to drift or a reskinning of the core game to enrich the queer elements of the setting. It’s only upon peering into the game in more detail that the true brilliance begins to shine.

As a player, it’s a fascinating experience. It’s a consensual game design from its core, giving the participants plenty of options and encouragement to create messy situations but allowing them to opt-in. If something diverges from the desires of the participants, each of them has “win buttons” that allow them to overcome those obstacles. The very nature of the system encourages communal decision making, watching other people’s boundaries, and taking care of the other people at the table.

It is a GM’ful game design, with each player portraying one main character and one situation – an aspect of the setting. One person may be “The Tiger”, the badass individual who leads a gang to defend their people and seize what the community needs. That player could also portray the Psychic Maelstrom situation, controlling this antagonistic force against their fellow players. Avery gives guidance on which situation elements are directly tied to each of the playbooks, so that you avoid having the Tiger controlling their own gang. Considering the strong GM focus of game powered by the apocalypse, this is fascinating.

It is a diceless game design, with a series of different fictional moves available which are custom-designed to fit each individual playbook. These moves are classified in three different tiers of effectiveness. Strong Moves are potent victories and solutions to problems, and you must spend a token each time you use them. The Tiger might have a strong move of “Say the right thing to extinguish someone’s fear and bolster their confidence” or “Calmly watch on as your gang reacts for you”.  Normal Moves are mixed results that continue the action or change the situation without resolving things, not requiring or providing a token. A Normal move might be “Take action, leaving yourself vulnerable” or “React by drawing a weapon”.  Weak Moves provide you one token each time you use them, and these almost always cause trouble/drama for the character. Example weak moves could be “Trigger the memory of a past trauma” or “Ask ‘Which character’s motives should I second-guess right now’”.

It’s functionally a beautiful, diceless, Gm’less mix of Apocalypse World and Fate Core.  I encourage all designers to explore Avery’s magnum opus at the link above.