We must Organize!

I thought I knew what I was doing last year.   My plan had been to write up the text of the game, then simply make a _few_ revisions based on the playtesting.   I thought that my design _must_ have been advanced enough that I could commission art.  I expected that I could finish off playtesting in 6-9 months, max and have my book in public Beta by early 2012.

I have learned a great deal over the last year.   I tore out 50% of the system and abandoned the text which I _had_ been writing.  I changed my approach and decided that I really needed to get the core system solidified before I tried anything else.   This led to me creating and heavily revising of a 2-page rules summary, just so that I had something to work from.

This is almost all I had ready by the time the convention season began.  Each playtest taught me a different lesson.  CanGames taught me that the game itself had the potential to be fun and compelling.  The Grand Roludothon taught me to simplify the mechanics and adopt a more improvisational style.  GenCon gave me 2-3 pages worth of astounding feedback which I am only now starting to digest.

Now I am organizing all of the rules for the Spark RPG.   I have Google Docs open and I am populating it with a series of one-line statements.  Each statement corresponds to an individual rule, concept, explanation or piece of advice for the game.  When I finish that up, I will be able to organize the content and turn that into a solid outline for my next attempt at writing the rule.  My hope is that through outlining, I ought to be able to write the game in the most concise manner possible without losing clarity.

Are there any readers in the audience who outline this way?  If not, how do you organize your RPG content?

Not because they are easy…

The Spark RPG is a “generic” game, flexible of setting while still encouraging a certain style of play. The challenge is that generic games often come across as flavourless, dull and derivative. It’s hard to design a good generic and almost impossible to market them in my experience.  This made it the perfect challenge.

I chose to design generic games games like these not because they are easy, but because they are hard.  The only way to learn quality RPG design is through practice.  Rather than release a series of smaller titles, I wanted to throw myself into the deep end and tackle a large and difficult project.  For my first major commercially-published product, I needed to be exposed to every step in the development process. I needed to teach myself the design philosophies, writing tricks, editing skills, layout, production and marketing. I view this ambitious project as a self-funded undergraduate degree in roleplaying game design.

I have made almost every mistake in the textbook.  I have tried publishing a fan supplement for a White Wolf game without a license.  I have discovered the folly of commissioning art assets prematurely.   I have written a draft text for my game before bringing it to playtesting.  I have spent hours fiddling with formatting when I could have better spent that time cleaning up the writing.  Right now, the beginners mistake I am making is focusing on marketing.   It is so very tempting to market myself and network over social media instead of putting in the hard work of writing.  Paradoxically, the infrequent updates on my website are a sign that I am actually writing the game.
I am designing games to learn and I think that generics are the best teachers.  What are your thoughts?


GenCon 2011 Seminar Recordings

One of my guilty pleasures at GenCon is to attend a variety of interesting game design panels with digital recorder in hand.  I was quite successful this year with 5 distinct seminar recordings.  I have done some rudimentary audio clean-up on the recordings but I currently lack the skill to properly polish them.   They are definitely worth a listen though, in my opinion I present the seminars in chronological order as I attended them.  I will try to link to the presenters websites whenever possible.

Things You Think About Games

Event Number: SEM1122700

Presenters: Jeff Tidball and Will Hindmarch from Gameplaywright (http://gameplaywright.net)

Things You Think About Games


The No-No’s of Game Design

Event Number: SEM1128758


Stan! (http://www.stannex.com/)

Jeff Neil Bellinger (http://killerbunnies.com)

Daniel Solis (http://danielsolisblog.blogspot.com)

Matt Forbeck (http://www.forbeck.com)

 The No-No’s of Game Design



Lessons from Indie Publishing

Event Number: SEM1122904

Presenters: David A Hill Jr. from Machine Age Productions (http://machineageproductions.com)

Lessons from Indie Publishing


Design an RPG in an Hour

Event Number: SEM1122800

Presenters: David A Hill Jr. from Machine Age Productions (http://machineageproductions.com)

Design an RPG in an Hour



Game Design is Mind Control

Event Number: SEM1120297


Luke Crane (http://www.burningwheel.org)

Jared A Sorenson (http://memento-mori.com)

Game Design is Mind Control


The Legal Rules of Gaming

Event Number: SEM1118576

Presenters:  Neil A. Wehneman (http://boardgamegeek.com/blog/377)

The Legal Rules of Gaming



In addition to those excellent seminars, I also had the pleasure of running 2-3 playtests of the Spark RPG with some excellent gamers and/or designers.  I didn’t request permission to post those game sessions online from the participants, so I will not post those particular recordings.  I was told a couple of things by all of the different groups of playtesters.

  1.  I need to improve the presentation of the rules; teach them in a better fashion with more clear character sheets
  2. I should change the GM Fate tracking sheet into a variant of the normal player character sheet.
  3. It is counter-intuitive to have conditions which only help you or only impede you, regardless of circumstances.  I will consider changing this around, though I am uncertain how exactly that would affect the economy.

I hope the seminar recordings and I wish to thank all of the fine participants of GenCon who supported my playtesting endeavours.


GenCon 2010 Seminar Recordings can be found Here.


Placeholder update

I just made it back home from an incredibly successful GenCon with a pile of indie RPGs and a half dozen recordings.   I will be posting all of the seminar recordings within the next 48 hours, but to tide you over till then here is the “This Just in From GenCon” episode that I sponsored and co-hosted.

Also, congratulations to the Evil Hat crew for sweeping the Dresdens  Ennies on Friday night.

GenCon 2011 Attendance and Playtesting Spark

Tomorrow morning I will pick up the car and begin the 2 day trek to the geek Mecca of GenCon,  Coming from Canada, it takes a moderate amount of time to make the journey to the city of race cars.  Still, I am eager to attend *counts* 9 seminars and workshops pertaining to game design which might help me.  I will also get to co-host the Thursday afternoon session of “This Just in, from GenCon!” podcast. Please do listen in if you can.

Beyond that I have a few other events scheduled.  I will be attending the Ennies with Eloy of Third Eye Games, where I expect the Evil Hat crew will win several awards.   I will be attending “Indie Games on Demand” on Thursday Evening and Saturday morning for four hour time-slots.  I also expect to appear on the evenings at the Embassy Suites.  In each occasion, I hope to host some playtests of the Spark RPG and I would encourage you to seek me out and join in!

I hope to meet some of you at the con and I hope I can run a game or two with you!