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[generic] #AprilTTRPGMaker


Day 17) Favourite form of feedback?

Discovering someone running one of my games at a convention. Reviews. I particularly enjoy a good one star review IF there's also a five star review to balance it out. You can learn a lot from a good one star review.
Catch-up time..

Day 16: Design Partners - well, again, I haven't done much actual design recently, but when I did I knew I could lean on my home play group for the sort of thoughtful, sensitive and constructive feedback I have grown to know and love* Beyond that, the wider blind playtesting posse have been brilliant. During the development of D&H there was a nice crossover between the Raw Deal crew and the RPG crew in Scotland, so Dave Avery and his gang in Edinburgh and Steve Ironside and his group in Aberdeen were scientifically thorough. And of course, where would I be without my caged tamed artist Peter Frain? In more modern esoteric times, the Liminal writers group - who I have dubbed the Urban Spookie Collective (and goddamit I'm going to keep using it until it catches on), have been really useful too!

* May contain sarcasm...

Day 17: Favourite Form of Feedback? You might want to go and grab yourself a drink, we may be some time. Feedback is a funny old thing and the usefulness of it really depends on the relationship that exists, or is taken between the giver and the receiver. Ideally, you would like to see a discussions on a similar level but that rarely happens. A lot of feedback is simply gushing froth and simply useless except for an ego boost. The other large portion of feedback is framed in a customer-provider dynamic, with the giver demanding that the designer concede to their point, at the risk of losing face, sales or reputation. This might well be useful feedback but the format makes it untenable. Additionally, as a self-published designer, as has been said before, you are your brand and when your brand is heavily and aggressively criticised it requires a ridiculous degree of discipline to mentally segregate the two.

Elsewhere (Facebook) I had a little moment recently about the trend for amateur commentators on movies to feel obliged to couch their reviews with knowing nods to their own superiority - "[FILM] is enjoyable but, of course, flawed in places", "I really enjoyed [FILM], but it isn't perfect", "Enjoyed [FILM] despite it being, obviously, problematic" - and I caught a bit of flak for it, because it was seen as just wanting to eject criticism. It wasn't; it was wanting to eject the culture where we simply HAVE to find flaw with things to look 'balanced'. The effect this has on feedback is that people who want to give something a clean bill of health feel obliged to find something ... anything ... so as not to look like a gushing, frothing, fanboi. There is a middle ground to be had.

So what is my favourite form of feedback? Feedback that is honest, owned by the giver, provides useful avenues for development and most importantly is given with the understanding that (a) the giver may not have all the facts, (b) the giver has no right to demand the adoption of their recommendations and (c) the receiver deserves to be treated with human respect and dignity - and not abused for having the sheer gall to dare try to write a game/scenario/podcast etc.

Day 18) Current Inspiration?

Source material? None. Everything’s reboots ATM. Nothing new has caught my eye. “The Orville” was the last thing to make me write a new scenario. And that’s just Star Trek with an RPG twist.

But with 5th Ed, Stranger Things etc our hobby could go mainstream and I’m enjoying showing it off to newbies. Same old stuff - but seen through new eyes. Vicarious pleasure, I suppose.

I’m at the “grind” phase with my current project - Manifold - it’s written but needs editing. However, I am enjoying the feedback and suggestions from people who have seen the rules. They keep me going.
Q. What did the daddy tomatoe say to the baby tomatoe?

Day 15) Do you design in public or private?
Private these days, because I'm pretty focused on what I'm doing. I've done Open Design in the past with OpenQuest, and should really get back into doing that since the feedback is golden and it gets the game's name out there and interest stirred.

Day 16) Any design partners?
I usually have at least one person acting as a dedicated Supervisor, in a similar way to my Academic Masters Dissertation, who oversees the whole production process making suggestions and making sure I stay on target. Dr Mitch often takes this role, he quietly came in as Monkey editor and has been a growing influence ever since. Fortune - the fate system that powers Hunters of Alexandria and The Hollow West is his baby and Beyond Dread Portals is his multiplanar OSR/D20 game (no really) game whose system will probably get used for other things. Graham (1st Age) was the guiding hand behind OpenQuest in its early days. John Ossoway wrote River of Heaven, which is not just a D100 sci-fi game, but also a purposely a sci-fi setting with an expansive timeline for other authors to use. John Holmes critiqued Crypts & Things 1st ed which lead to the much beefier and robust Crypts and Things Remastered. Neil Gow is Monkey's favourite Uncle and his feedback over the years during both 1st & 2nd edition have made the game much better as a result. I'm extremely thankful for people who help me out in this way since it keeps me going in moments of extreme self-doubt.

Day 17) Favourite form of feedback?
Positive criticism.Stuff that is clear and to point that I can actually work with. Also, the private emails from people how much they enjoyed the game/used it to introduce rpging to their children.

Day 18) Current Inspiration?
The usual stuff that floats my boat; music, conspiracy theories/secret history, futurism, mythology. Oh and walking the dog in the park at end of my road (for Paul Mitchener's Liminal RPG ;) ).
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Day 18: Inspiration

Inspiration, for me, is a constant thing. As I mentioned earlier, I am a 'method' creator; when I am in the zone I have to consume vast quantities of media to fire my imagination and get my head into the right space for the subject. Generally this comes from a few standard places - TV and film, books (fiction and non-fiction), comics, music and 'life'. So, as I am getting my head around writing Liminal London, I have read a load of books about London, watched some classic London based movies, looked at a load of images of London and even went and visited it to see things first hand.

I'm also a big fan of visualisation - I can sit on the Metro in the morning and for a few minutes take myself to a scene or a sequence in a game and imagine my way around it. This is even better if I have music to listen to when I'm doing it. So if I am thinking about how to run a climactic battle scene for the end of a campaign, I might have the Superman theme music on loop and run through the pacing of the scene to match the music, with the rises and falls etc. That really works for me and I get a load of inspiration by letting my mind run through the permutations of a situation.

I also find inspiration from the games that other people run - every day is a learning day, and every game has something that you can take away from it. In that way your technique, as a player, designer or GM, is always in a state of continuous improvement.

Day 19) Game that’s most essential to your design?

For my traditional SHRPGS, the basis of original D&D was my starting point. They got so much right from the start. The 3d6 bell curve for stats and character generation vs a d20 flat roll in play is still a very strong basis for a system. And the idea of stats and character sheets is great. The original stats were pretty good but can be tweaked. Do we need Int/Wisdom? Should we split Dexterity into manual dexterity and physical agility? Should we have a perception stat?

But the basic system is still sound.

Superhero 2044 - with its flaws - made me, and many others, design my own games. But the fact that it was clearly self published showed me that doing your own game was possible.

My current essential game is my lightweight “code” game system. That one is all me. I can’t believe I created it!

Day 20) Favourite Design Tool? None. I use Word. I hate the way it gives you great layout features but which are lost when it publishes to pdf

I use Photoshop at a basic level (I need something for making Drivthrurpg POD covers and photoshop does the job). I’m far from brilliant at it but I’ve enjoyed things like taking a basic b&w stock art image of a hero bursting through a wall and grafting on a UJ and swaztika and the head of an RAF pilot to make a WW2 cover.

I also Download templates from POD websites as layout basics. Might as well start from a professional design than from scratch.
Day 19: What game is most essential to your design?

I think the watershed moment for me when it came to thinking about game design was Spirit of the Century. Before then games had followed the task resolution, very granular, stat and skill driven model that we had played around with since D&D first hit my table. SotC (and the rest of that diaspora of 'indie' games) opened up a totally different paradigm of resolution and play for me.

Day 20: Favourite Design Tool?

As I've said before, I'm a Word+Photoshop+InDesign type of guy. However, my absolute essential design tool is a notebook and pen. I am ridiculously busy for large parts of the week and have very little time to process ideas when they come to me. I do a lot of work on the Metro, going back and forth to work and as you would have to be desperate to not have a laptop to use a laptop on the Metro, pen and paper are the thing! I carry a little notebook and pen with me everywhere! I don't write in long-hand, but rather in a sort of flowchart script that I have developed over the years that allows me to map my thoughts in a way that works for me.

Day 21) How many playtests?

You can never have enough. You must always playtest until the game works more than once. However you can't obsessively test to try to obtain perfection or check out every possible rule permutation. You can't run several campaigns to "high level" to check out the character development rules for every "character class". Sometimes you just have to accept that things seem OK and publish. You need to publish. A work of art is never completed, only abandoned. An an almost perfect unpublished set of rules is not a game - a functional published set of rules is a game. You need to publish.

If the game works and is good but wrinkles emerge later in mass play - an errata sheet or second edition is valid.

A playtest must also be a proper game session and, therefore, fun. The "playtests" for Golden Heroes were home campaigns and convention refights of famous ComicBook battles. They were fun, not work.

Ideally playtests shouldn't necessarily be refereed by the designer. (That's not an ideal I can live up to all the time.) Also you need to be clear you're playtesting the rules not the referee. I'm a good referee and I can run great game using any old sh*t rules. I have to be careful when testing a game to explain the rules, see if players understand and are wringing neat uses out of the rules and obtain feedback on the rules at the end - not the (fun) game, but the rules. How did the RULES make it fun? What did we do that we wouldn't have done in another game system? Etc.

Day 22) How do you document ideas?

This is where I have a personal weakness. I don’t document new ideas.

When I say, write down your ideas and stick them in a bottom drawer somewhere for later - do what I say, not what I do. I keep them in my head and do it metaphorically.

This is not a good idea.
Day 21: How many playtests?

Playtests, to me, are a paradox. On the one hand I wholeheartedly believe that playtesting is a vital part of the design process and to skimp on it is a failure of design. I'd go as far to say that if you are asking someone to buy your product its immoral to sell them something that is simply an edited stream of consciousness. We wouldn't accept that in our other purchases so we shouldn't in our games.

However, playtests can be a spiky affair. I have been through the wringer in my old CCG days and I recognise the same toxic behaviour in RPG playtests (as I have mentioned in a previous example.) Its a perfect example of advocacy within a product; someone who is so into it that they are willing to spend their unpaid time helping out, also feels a connection to the product that makes them feel they have some ownership. Legitimate ownership.

The answer to this is being really explicit about what you want from playtests - do you want to see what char gen does? What broken builds there are within it? What about gameplay - how does it feel? What about advancement? Does it work? By playtesting for specific things you focus things into deliverable micro-projects.

So, how many playtests? I'll answer this with the same answer I give my students when they ask me 'How many citations?' - as many as you need to feel you have presented the work to the best of your abilities, at a standard that you feel happy with. The reality is you can always do more, you will always have someone point out a flaw and there will always be someone who claims you haven't done enough...

Day 22: How do you document your ideas?

Initially, I don't. My ideas sit in my head for months. I have limited windows for writing and design each year due to work, so its pointless trying to make headway outside of these. When I have the chance, assuming I have gone through the aforementioned notepad scribbling phase, I rationalise my ideas on a spreadsheet. Weird, I know, but D&H was born on a spreadsheet. V2 currently exists on a spreadsheet. All of my current Liminal work is planned on a series of spreadsheets. It brings the notes together into some form of coherent document that I can RAG rate, edit, move and generally mess about with to keep me happy. Never underestimate the power of the good spreadsheet!

Day 23) People who’ve helped you?

Far far too many to list. This is not a cop out.

Self-centred types? There are a couple left out there, yes. But not very many.

In the main this is a massively friendly and inclusive hobby. It started by showing emotionally awkward young men - like me - how to get round a table and co-operate for common goal.

Nowadays everyone helps everyone else. There’s always someone who’ll offer to help - in my experience.

If I start to list some, I’ll miss out others, and I don’t want anyone to feel slighted. You’re all wonderful!

Day 24) Most notable achievement?

Golden Heroes. Golden... flipping..... Heroes. I mean it's a good game and everything but it's pushing four decades old now. I've written and published loads since then but whenever I meet someone it's always Golden Heroes I'm remembered for. I feel like Dr Richard Daystrom (that's a Star Trek reference.)