[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.)
Captain James T. Kirk: [about Simon Burley] At the age of twenty-four, he wrote Golden Heroes that won him the best new Roleplaying game award at GamesDay and critical acclaim.
Dr. McCoy: In his early twenties, Jim. That's over a quarter of a century ago.
Captain James T. Kirk: Isn't that enough for one lifetime?
Dr. McCoy: Maybe that's the trouble. Where do you go from up? You publish articles, you give lectures, then you spend the rest of your life trying to recapture past glory.
Captain James T. Kirk: All right, it's difficult. What's your point?
Dr. McCoy: The Squadron UK, the Comics Code, the Super Hack remember? Not entirely successful. That's the way Burley put it.
Captain James T. Kirk: But a genius doesn't work on an assembly line basis. Did Einstein, Kazanga, or... or Sitar of Vulcan produce new and revolutionary games on a regular schedule? You can't simply say, "Today I will be brilliant". No matter how long it took, he came out with Manifold
Dr. McCoy: Right. [Redacted] bought it, then Burley had to make it work; and he did. But according to Spock, it's "like the love child of GURPS and Paranoia"
Captain James T. Kirk: And he won't let anyone near it. What're you saying?

Day 25) Being a TTRPG designer means.....

That you’ve been LUCKY enough to discover you can do it. Have the BELIEF that you can design a game you and others want to play. Get regular ITCHES - ideas, problems that need to be solved....
Where was I?

Day 23: People Who Have Helped
I'm not going to cop out and say there are too many to mention, because there aren't! *wink*
Obviously, the Collective Endeavour folks nurtured me through the start of it all, and Peter Frain drew it, and a load of playtesters tested it, and then people bloody bought it and played it. And all of that helped. The convention organisers and traders who stocked it helped. The forumites and G+ers and Facebook peeps talked about it. However the biggest help, the single group of people who have helped the most are my home play group because they have never once told me I was mad, or couldn't do it, or shouldn't do it. Awesomeness

Day 24: Most Notable Achievement?
I'm not big on awards, or Guest of Honour-ing, although I have done both. I'm going to be a bit trite here but I can honestly say the most notable achievement I have had in games design was the moment the first proof of D&H landed through the letterbox. I can remember ripping open that cardboard envelope and then just running around the house like a fool. Such a buzz. Actually doing something is an amazing high.

Day 25: Being a TTRPG designer means.....
More on this later...

Day 26) Blogs,Streams,Podcasts?

My blog: https://rpgs4all.blogspot.co.uk

I’ve just been interviewed: https://armchairadventurerblog.com

Our first game has just been “unboxed”

I’m quite fond of Guy Milner’s blog because we have similar but different thoughts on things and he’s the only person so far to give me a signal boost:

There was a Squadron UK podcast but I’ve never listened to it (sorry) and I think it’s on an hiatus:
Day 25: Being a TTRPG designer means.....

[Time to don the asbestos armour] I know this is an old song from me, but this question asks for it. I'm thrilled that the old idea of the game designer as some sort on unfathomable uber-being has well and truly died. I'm also thrilled that now people with an idea, the will and meagre resources needed can bring their ideas to fruition and distribute them to gamers worldwide. Seriously, just imagining my 1980s self hearing that is amazing. I'm less than thrilled by the prevalence of tall poppy syndrome that infects our hobby now, on the back of some sort of consumerist entitlement. I've experienced some really quite toxic behaviour based on the fact that I have had the audacity to publish a game and that, somehow, entitles people to make demands, verbally and digitally abuse me and even accuse me of fraud. That behaviour can dance on a room covered in D4s.

And nowadays, there is another wrinkle. Like so much popular culture, many TTRPGs are now at the cutting edge of the ever-expanding culture wars that infiltrate our everyday lives. If your game is deemed to 'ist' then you are lambasted by one side, if it's seen to appease the lambasters, it is derided by the other. The resultant shitstorm can tank a perfectly reasonable game or destroy the reputation of the designer. Where once games were concerned with how to explain why a shortsword didn't do d6 damage, now its about justifying why you have used a short sword when that weapon was never part of your culture 2000 years ago and is therefore an insult to [insert culture] or explaining why a piece of art doesn't have a Size 0 Woman in it and is therefore not a trigger to some wingnut incel freak.

The self-published game has changed a lot over the last ten years. Kickstarter and the money that it involves can easily turn a hobby into a small business. It pushes the expectations of production values through the roof, almost creating an environment where you have to Kickstarter to get the budget to get the art to make the game worthy of the market, unless you have a few grand sitting around which takes us full circle back to the pre-POD days of barriers to entry.

So an abusive culture, with raging culture wars and a hyper-competitive commercial market impinging on the hobbyist space? Why on Earth choose to be involved?

Because being a TTRPG designer is bloody awesome. Despite all of that, you get to make games! Games that people can play and enjoy and tell you tales about, and contribute to, and expand. You are adding to the hobby. You are expanding the range of fun. You are taking an active role, daring greatly. In fact, at this point it's time to bust out Teddy Roosevelt.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Day 26: Blogs, Podcasts and Streams (Oh My!)

Time. Time is the killer. And the fact that my sodding Pixel 2XL's headphones are on the blink. I never really got the blog thing - but I would be happy to have some recommendations. Streaming seems very odd to me, very odd indeed, but I dip into the YouTube version of Shield of Tomorrow now and then. Podcasts are more my thing, but again its time and tech and well ... quality. I've listened to a few and after a couple of episodes realised I spent more time rolling my eyes that listening. What Would the Smart Party Do? is consistent quality, and Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff is like the RPG version of Radio 4.