My new blogging project

I’ve resisted having a personal blog for some time, but I’ve finally cracked. It’s at http://timothyferguson.wordpress.com/ In terms of game writing, my hope is to describe where I foundthe basic ideas that drove each of the books I’ve had some part in. I’m also having discussions with my line editor to blog my writing  process for a book which is still under non-disclosure.

So, as yet its pretty content poor site, but I hope it’ll improve over time, and all feedback is welcome.

Game Design in 8 Easy Steps…

So, some folk have committed to the outrageous plan of creating and publishing a game before the next GenCon Oz. At this stage, this could be as early as July 2011, which gives us all about 8 months. Now, that doesn’t sound like very long, but remember that people regularly create RPG’s in far less time – off the top of my head there is the 24-hour Challenge that gives you a single day to make a 24-page game and Game Chef that lets you have a luxurious week to develop your masterpiece. So, long story short, it is TOTALLY possible. To help you out I have put together a timeline that you might like to use to keep you on track. You don’t have to use it, but there are some points on there that you should definitely keep in mind as you put together your own project timeline (and you SHOULD put together a project timeline – how else are you going to keep everything organised and on track?).

  • November – First Draft
  • December – Playtesting, round one
  • January – Tweak, expand and wait
  • February – The Look, and Consolidation
  • March – Paytesting, round two
  • April – Layout
  • May – Check Proof, and Tell the world
  • June – Relax…

November – Write your first draft.
I have already pointed out people do this in 1 day and 1 week, so there is no good reason why you can’t do it in a month. Start with a bare-bones draft of all the essentials you would need to run for your own group (an overview of what the game is about, character generation and the core mechanics), then build on it with multiple “passes” over the month (that is, go back and keep adding). This draft should have everything you would expect to have in a typical RPG, including but not limited to –

  • what is the game about (theme/concept/cool idea)?
  • how do you make characters (including skills, equipment or anything else relevant to your game)?
  • how do you resolve conflict (your “game mechanics”)?
  • how do characters advance/change/grow (experience etc)?
  • is there anything GM’s / players should be aware off / watch out for (this is a pre-cursor to GM advice)?
  • what is the setting like?
  • what kinds of stories / adventures do we make?

This is not your finished game, but should be in a state that other people can make sense of. Spell check it and read over a hardcopy (you always notice mistakes when you print a document out). Function over form at this stage.

December – Playtesting, round one
Hopefully during November you would have had a chance to drag your friends, regular gaming group or Nana into playing your “awesome new game” – that will have helped with getting all your thoughts in order as you wrote the first draft. Now, you’re gonna play the game some more and beg others to play it too. Put your game online somewhere (on your own site / blog if you have one, over at 1KM1KT, or let me know – we can always use the Peril Planet forums). Tell everyone that it is online and anyone that plays it and gives feedback will get a playtest credit. I hope that people participating in this outrageous endeavor will help each other out by playtesting each other’s games.
At this point you are not likely to get a lot of feedback, but at least that first draft is out there. Expect round one of playtesting to last until February, but feel free to encourage people to “get your feedback in by X-date”, if you want. Playing the game yourself, though, will be a big benefit to your design. As feedback comes in, keep a record of who sent it and what it was – I have a folder on my computer for this stuff. Think about your game and continue to fiddle with the language.

January – Tweak, expand and wait
Your New Year resolution was obviously to finish this game, and you are now filled with the enthusiasm that a new year brings. Congratulations. Continue to massage your text (yes, massage!), filling out details where necessary and writing examples. Examples – detailed examples that actually demonstrate the specific rule you are talking about – are a great way to clarify and explain your rules. You probably have a few examples from your playtesting that can be used in the text – it will give your players and playtesters a kick, too!
Continue to solicit for playtesting.

February – The Look, and Consolidation
Now is a good time to think about layout and art. You might already have a strong design concept, or none at all. Talk to people about your layout and design, and google those topics for some free advice. There are simple things you can do to improve the appearance of your final product. In regards to art, you can seek out public domain images, purchase stock art, or engage the services of an artist. This is perhaps best left for a more detailed post. There is no need to do the layout yet, but you may need to get the ball rolling, especially if you are commissioning work.
While you are pondering layout, gather all the feedback you have received and do any re-writing for the game that is necessary. You might have been making adjustments as suggestions and advice came in, in which case you are sorted already. You should also have a good idea about the kind of advice that a GM will need, so work on that section of the rules. Get your Mum, Significant Other or Postman to read through the text looking for grammar errors and typos (the reader doesn’t need to be a gamer, just willing to help).

March – Playtesting, round two
As early as possible in the month (if not last month) update your original document with your new, revised edition. Send an email / copy to people who actually provided feedback the first time around and ask them what they think of the changes. Play the pants off the thing yourself. You might find that changes made don’t fix the identified issues, or change game play in an unintentional way. At this point time is likely going to be an issue, so you and your players are going to have to take on the majority of the playtesting. Make notes and updates as necessary.

April – Layout
Start putting together your document / book / game. Whether you are using Word, InDesign, Open Office, PageMaker or a notepad and pen you will be putting the actual final document together. Consider how many pages and what size the final format is going to be. Be aware of page breaks, orphaned sentences or words (they go over the page and hang there by themselves), the size of borders, position of page numbers and where the art is going. Hopefully this will be relatively straightforward as you have been thinking about it since February! When your text is in, print out the document, stick the whole thing together and trim it up so it looks like the final book (this might involve printing back-to-back or gluing pages together). Look through this mock-up for any layout that doesn’t look right and do a final check for grammar, typos and other dodgy bits (that’s a technical term). When you are happy with your mock-up send the book to your printer (whether that is literally your own computer printer, a PDF converter, Kwik Copy, Lulu or Lightening Source or another POD provider).

May – Check Proof, tell the world
Now you get to wait around for your proof copy (if you have sent it away to be printed). When it comes back be very excited and proud of yourself! Then, go through it with a fine-tooth comb. Check all the things you checked last month and get a few friends to look through it, too. Someone will inevitably point out a typo on the first page! I write straight into my proof copy, noting the changes I need to make, then tick them off when I make them. When you have fixed up your document, send it back. If you have time and are patient, get another proof copy and go through the process again. When you are happy with your proof copy, then is the time to order some additional copies for friends, family and customers!
While you are waiting around for the proof copies to come in, be noisy about your awesome game. Hopefully you have already been blogging, tweeting and/or Facebooking about what you have been doing, but now you might also consider contacting podcasters, reviewers and other folk and asking if they would like a review copy. It is almost free to send PDF’s – just don’t send one until you are happy with your final proof!

June – Relax…
Congratulations, you finished a full month ahead of schedule! Now you can relax… What’s that? You’re not finished? Things got caught up, it took longer than expected to get your art, and/or life got in the way? Lucky you have this whole month to catch up then! If you find you are a bit behind on a few things, you can get them done now, in the last minutes before the completion date. If you are done at this point, continue making outrageous noise about your awesome game and fantastic achievement.

Let me reiterate that this is not THE way to create your game. It is A way to do it. There are many steps here that you may disagree with, and that is totally cool. You need to plan according to your needs, in order to get your game ready. With that said, I put out the challenge to you to have a playtest document ready before Christmas. Gather your dice, put on your thinking cap and sharpen your pencils – it is time to create a game!

There’s a part time gaming job going at the State Library of Queensland

So, the Edge at the SLQ is looking for someone to put in a day a week until next May, setting up gaming ideas for a festival. I thought I’d spread the idea around in case any of you are interested.  It closes 25 October, so you’ll need to get your resumes polished fast.

Dice Probabilities

I am no math guy. I can count enough to put the right number of candles on my birthday cake, but not much else. This doesn’t usually worry me when it comes to game design, because I am more of a “it feels right” kind of guy, rather than a hard probabilty guy. Some games (and game designers), though, like the mathamatical stuff you can do with dice probability. And if you are designing for an existing game, you probably need to understand how the probabilities work in that system. A recent discussion over on the Fate yahoo group was tackling such an issue when someone asked “Can you play Fate with 2d6 (+skill)?”. The discussion on the different probabilities of Fudge dice, 2d6, and D6 – D6 were (surprisingly) interesting. If you are interested in that discussion you should check out the Fate yahoo group. If you are interested in dice probabilities, have a look at the AnyDice website.

What I’m stealing from the weekend: Smallville and Shock

I played Smallville and Shock for the first time at Uprising and I’d like to thank Steve and Peter (I hope it was Peter.  I’m ridiculously bad with names) for running them.

I’ve reviewed them for a non-gamery audience way over here, which is my work blog, and I’d love it if you nipped by, but in this post I’m going to write about what I can steal, in terms of game mechanics.

So, for me the revelation about Smallville was the way it used the relationship map to frame scenes, and the simple oppositional rolling.  I thought that would make it a good system for pbp style play. It would need some sort of communal whiteboard tool, but there are a heap of those around. I think because we were playing a short session the game rewarded characters who were shallower and more extreme in their goals, but would be interested in seeing if that’s a persistent element or if the game is more rewarding for rounded characters over extended play.

For my own game design, what I took from Smallville is the power of diagrams as play contract design tools.  Now I write mostly for Ars, and we have the idea that the place where the characters live is a living embodiment of play contract, so you can look at the map of a magi’s castle and see the structure of the stories told so far and various hooks for future stories, as it were, in the very stones, but the way Smallville ties in NPCs and forces connections between places and NPCs, so that complexity of use to the narrative emerges, that’s a really great trick.  The key to it seems to be to get the players to contribute in formal turns, so that layers form, and each player can assess each layer before adding more material.

Shock was interesting to me because I have played few GMless systems, and its designed for shortform play, whereas Ars is very long sagas, by design.  Mechanically its very sparse, so in terms of design lessons I can’t really nominate one thing I’ve learned from it that I’d like to steal for my own work.  There may be some ideas in terms of saga design, or story arc design, but I’m going to have to ponder those a little more.  The Ars system is virtue and flaw, so players bring their own issues to the saga.  There may be something in the “I bid my emotional connection to X for the reroll.” that could be coupled with the Ars Magica Confidence rules, especially the Infernal variants. 

In Ars, you can use your Confidence points to aid rolls.  In Ars is you are playing a diabolist, your sins give you Confidence and then you spend it to cast malefic spells. I can sort of see something there, so that, like in Shock, you’d wager bits of yourself for demonic assistance.  This would give you a sort of thing like in Books of Magic where the wizard trades the memory of his first kiss with the love of his life for demonic aid.  I’m not quite sure how that would work, but it’s something to remember, in case I need it later.

Planning your timeline

It’s been only a couple of weeks since the current Stockade challenge kicked off and all that enthusiasm has been punched in the face by real life, right? I have good news for you, there’s a way to fight back.

At this stage the best thing you can do for your project is to craft a plan with dates when you want to have things done. And then print it out and put it somewhere that you’ll see it often. This plan is your path to a completed game.

Have you made a plan already? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

The naga demon

Is the challenge to create a game in a year (or a bit less if GenCon Oz is in July) too easy for you? Then how about a game in a month? Then how about this challenge from Nathan Russell?

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I strongly recommend you all give it a try, at least once. For those of you more interested in games than novels, though, why not use November as your very own National Game Design Month (NaGa DeMon). Commit to creating, writing and playing (at least once) a boardgame, wargame or RPG of your own.

Nathan has some good tips for the process on his site. And if you keep reading his posts through November you can keep tabs on his own NaNoWriMo project.