Friday, May 30, 2014

How do you decide what projects to design?

How do you choose what projects to design?

That’s a toughie. I could say something trite like “the designs choose me!” because it’s kind of true. If I have an idea, I try to take it to execution. I might put stuff on the backburner but I always try to work on things periodically, keep old projects in mind, and take notes. Google Drive is a huge tool for this. I have loads of unfinished ideas lurking in a folder on Google Drive where I will take notes and log ideas.
Here are the major things I think of, honestly, when it comes to deciding whether I proceed with a project.

Do I have ideas for it?

If I don’t have ideas for a project, there’s no point in working on it. If I’m in a rut, I can dig at it, but often that just keeps me digging deeper instead of finding my way out. There’s a lot to be said for having inspiration and enthusiasm for a project, and without those things, it’s just toiling, and I don’t design to toil. I design to create things people will enjoy, and if I don’t enjoy making it, it’s not my best work.
Now, it’s one thing to design something that is hard or tedious, but I’m talking complete lack of interest. If you ask me to design something based on politics (like bureaucracy) or something with strict history guidelines, I probably will have a lot more trouble and enjoy it a lot less unless it’s something I find fascinating.

Do I have an audience for it?

I have loads of ideas just hanging out and waiting to see if there is someone who wants to play it. With Girls’ Slumber Party WOO! I am anxious because it’s kind of a niche game. I have ideas and enthusiasm for it, but I don’t know whether there’s a big enough audience to sell it, which is why it may end up being a free release once it’s done. One of the keys with having an audience is having playtesters, and we all know that having playtesters is a struggle for designers. If you can’t playtest a design, you put yourself at risk of having design flaws. Yeah, it can be done, but I’d rather find obvious design flaws before I put my games in the hands of people who paid for it. This is why development for Clash and Tabletop Blockbuster have taken as long as they have – we playtest, we find flaws, redesign, and playtest again. Rinse, repeat.

Is there interest in it?

It’s one thing to have an audience. Having an audience means there are people out there in the demographic and with preferences that means your game might appeal to them. Having interest is a whole ‘nother deal. Interest means that there are individuals or groups out there that receive your pitch and say “YES. Let’s DO this.” You don’t want to be putting something out there and have people bored to tears or uninterested because you didn’t design it to appeal, or because there’s just not interest in what you’re selling. You want people picking up what you put down, right?

Can it make money?

This sounds shallow, but frankly, I like getting paid for my work. To put it in perspective, I was not going to sell Clash. I was going to print it out and give it out for free. Then a few IGDN members went “Oh, no no no!” and gave me what-for about it. They showed interest in the game (see the last question), and gave me reasons for why it was a money-making possibility. Subsequently, I invested tons of time and some of my own money in getting it to ashcan state over six months, including taking it to cons, paying for scenarios to be written, etc. I still think free products are great, but I also think that models like Patreon are appropriate for people making “free” games because I think it’s fair to pay people for their efforts. As much as it would be great to just create and be free of societal expectations of financial responsibilities, we still live in a world where living – just living – costs money. Design work isn’t magical. You still have to eat while you’re designing, and keep the internet and power on. When I’m working on design, I’m not working at my day job or doing freelance writing, but I’m still using power and burning calories. Something’s gotta pay for that. This doesn’t mean that I’ll never release something for free, it just means that I’ll try to create products that can pay me back for the work I do.

Does the design concept work?

I’ve written down some really silly design ideas. Some I saved, some I deleted. The thing is, if your design concept is flawed – like bad math or too much complexity or too much simplicity – there’s no point in pursuing the design as is. You either need to redesign or dump it. And there’s nothing wrong with dumping a design! Generally when I dump a design I put it in a Google Drive folder just in case I want to pull it out and pull ideas from it at a later date – I’ve saved every revision of Clash, every draft of Tabletop Blockbuster rules, and a bunch of other stuff.

Do I have time for it? OR Will I make time for it?

I’m super busy. I work and go to school and have this blog, plus I do freelance writing and design. So, stuff I’m working on personally has to have a lot of value for me. I have to either have free time, or make time. And whether I make time really depends on whether I like the product.

Do I like what I’m working on?

Some stuff this is a quick and easy “Yup!” like Girls’ Slumber Party WOO! Some of it is harder, like certain aspects of Tabletop Blockbuster (like GM rules, which were quickly handed over to John, my partner-in-crime). While designing is something I have found passion for, I still need to like the stuff I’m doing. This is different than having ideas; this is more an emotional investment. I need to want to pour my soul into what I’m doing.

In the end, it's about whether I like the project and whether I feel like it's worth investing in.

What helps you decide what projects to focus on?

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Five or So Questions with John Sheldon on (un)Common Adventure Gallery

Tell me about the (un)Common Adventures Gallery. What has you excited about it?

The (un)Common Adventure Gallery is a collection of free-to-publish* genre illustrations I've started with funding through Patreon. Right now I'm doing all the illustrations, but I hope to reach a level where I'm making enough on each of my pieces that I can afford to hire other illustrators to add more variety and subject matter to the gallery. I'm really excited to have an ongoing project that helps me focus on my illustration efforts, that allows me to get direct input from my supporters on what they want to see from me, and that will eventually let me hire some of my favorite illustrators from the indie RPG scene.

*Using the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

What do you think makes you uniquely suited to this project, especially hiring other artists as well as doing illustration?

I love a broad variety of genres in illustration, and I love experimenting with different media and different styles of illustration (though I have certain sensibilities that always manage to bleed through). My time as the senior editor and producer of a daily TV newscast gave me a lot of experience working with other creative people and helping to integrate their work into a cohesive final product. Basically, I want this project to be a place where I can exercise many aspects of my own creativity, a place where I can help showcase the great work other people are doing, and a place where both happen in a coordinated way.

What motivated you to go Creative Commons?

I felt that releasing the art with a Creative Commons license would be a better deal for me and for the people in the communities I engage. Tons of people from game designers to authors and publishers find that they need art for their projects, and lots of the people I interact with don't have much of a budget for their total project (let alone to pay an illustrator to make custom pieces for everything they want). So, using the most permissive Creative Commons license lets them grab something to use as a placeholder, and if they can't find something better or can't afford something custom, they can still go to press or do a commercial release with the work they've designed around.

The Creative Commons Attribution license works for me on two levels. First, I happen to have a job that pays my bills. I'm not relying on the illustration work to keep the lights on or to put food in my belly, so I don't currently have to worry about what I could charge in the future for licensing these works. I'd be drawing anyway, and since what I'm drawing comes strictly from my own imagination I have little expectation of a financial return on it. The CC-A license lets a lot more people use it and feel comfortable sharing it, and means that I can show off the full size, high resolution versions of my art without distracting watermarks and without worrying that someone will steal it.

The second way the CC-A license works for me is related to that last point and feeds back into the reason I chose Patreon for this project. The more people that can see my work (in they way I intend it to be seen), the greater the size of my potential audience. As the audience grows, the number of people who might pitch in to fund my work grows. So, the CC-A license also works as a marketing tool for me by letting the full illustrations be my ads (which, of course, only works because I don't need the money to feed myself).

How do you think the Patreon model will help you meet your goals?

Patreon helps keep me motivated to do some good, fun art in the absence of other specific motivations. I find that without a school project or a paying contract, I end up with a whole lot of half-finished illustrations and semi-complete drawings. With just a little bit of money on the line, like enough to go see a movie or get a nice meal, I suddenly have a lot more motivation to work on those personal projects. Patreon also lets me interact with the people who back me so I can be sure to work on stuff that interests them, too. The payment model is also great because it is results-oriented. If I don't put out an illustration, nobody gets charged. If I put something out and nobody likes it, they can withdraw their pledges before getting charged.

Beyond that, the 'stretch goal' features of Patreon let people know what they'll get when each of the works I produce nets more money. For this project, a lot of those goals involve hiring other illustrators to create CC-A licensed art for the gallery.

What are you looking for when it comes to hiring future artists?

I'll be looking for three things when it comes time to commission work from other artists. First, I have to like their work. Luckily, this isn't too much of a limiting factor as I have broad taste in illustration. Second, their art style should be different from mine. One of the primary goals of commissioning other illustrators is to get a larger variety of work in the gallery, and the creative briefs I develop for the commissions (with help from my Patrons) will help me aim for different content and styles than I have been able to produce. Finally, I will be looking for people from different backgrounds than mine.

The reason that last part is important to me is in part because I am so tremendously privileged that I don't have to rely on this work to put food on my table. If I can put money in the hands of an artist who really needs it (and pay them a full, professional rate rather than the bargain rates they might otherwise bid just to get any work at all), it will be making a bigger difference than it would if it went to another illustrator in shoes like mine (comfortable ones that I could replace if I needed to).

What's the next project for your Patreon, as of this interview (early May)?

I showed some concepts to my backers on Patreon, and the community-level Patrons have selected an illustration tentatively titled Cherry Blossom Knight. I've already shot the photo reference for it (which some of the Patrons can see), and I'm headed to media testing now (picking what media to work in, e.g., colored pencil or watercolor). From there I'll proceed to different drawing and rendering steps, all of which I'll be documenting for my supporters with photos, time-lapse videos, and scans. I hope to have the final illustration done in early June.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Five or So Questions with Benjamin Woerner on A World of Dew

Check out the Kickstarter for A World of Dew!

Tell me a little about A World of Dew. What excites you about it?

Ever since I was a kid and saw my first samurai film I've LOVED Japanese history and cinema. I played Legend of the Five Rings when it first came out and am literally still playing it now. I've read and watched a ton of Japanese history and media and played hundreds of hours of games like Shogun 2: Total War.

But there was something missing. In a lot of Japanese Chambara films the heroes are not the Samurai, they're all the other people: the geisha, the ronin, the sumo, the peasant, etc. There wasn't a game where you play those characters. At least, there was a modern story driven game that does that. I wanted to play Sanjuro, Zatoichi, Sayuri from Memoirs of a Geisha, and Bob from The Last Samurai. I wanted to play the snow fight in Sword of Doom, and solve the murders like Sano Ichiro in did in the Laura Joh Rowland novels. My friend John Wick had written Blood & Honor in 2010. It's a brilliant game, but you play Clan Samurai in a Clan. I wanted everyone else. So I wrote it.

Instead of Clan Samurai you play all the other characters: Doctors, Gaijin, Yakuza, and all the other characters I mentioned before. And instead of building a Clan and playing in the Clan you build a City. John's game is set during the Sengoku Jidai (The 15th to 17th centuries) when Japan was fighting constant wars internally to unify itself as one true nation. My game is set after that during the Tokugawa Era (1600-1850s). Japan was united politically, but it was being torn apart by the rise of modernism and the merchant class culminating in the Boshin War and the restoration of the Meiji Emperor as ruler of Japan. Cities, not Clans became important. Important trade hubs like Nagasaki, Yokohama, and Hiroshima begin to grow like crazy with the influx of gaijin (foreign) merchants from all over the world. It's also when most of the great Chambara films take place.

And because John's game was so well designed for a Japanese setting I was able to port over the core mechanics, create all the new character rolls, new advantages, aspects, and create the City Creation System. The players and Narrators build a City by spending Build Points to create important Locations, Faces, and Threats in their City. The Locations all have built in mechanics to drive the campaign's story forward and help the Narrator decide where to go. It makes the work of Narrating Samurai Noir stories easy and exciting. :)

What influences did you use in your art direction?

I had a kind of atypical childhood growing up. Not to get into it too much but I knew more about Tchaikovsky at 14 than I did about Nirvana (yeah I'm old). My mom was a High School teacher of French, English, and Humanities. Every year she'd take her students on a bunch of cultural field trips, and I went on all of them along with my dad and sister usually. :) Some people think that's weird, but I learned a lot about art, music, and theatre fairly young. And don't worry, when I got to high school and college I had friends who taught me about Nirvana, Queen, and most importantly Daft Punk.

The point being was that when I was a young teenager I already knew about Hiroshige and Hokusai and all the other great Japanese woodblock painters. One I spent a year of college in the UK I was very lucky to see a temporary exhibit at the British Museum that had hundreds of original Japanese woodblock prints, plus a bunch of other cool Japanese stuff like swords, armor, and a full sized Teahouse. I split my entire Fall break between that and a Battletech video arcade in Piccadilly Circus.

I knew going into this project that I wanted to share all these beautiful prints with everyone who read my game. When John was developing Blood & Honor I was helping him and Jessica Kauspedas, my Art Director for this project as well, with art selection. I found a print on the Library of Congress, and then Jessica found this huge archive of scanned original copies of all these Masters. The Great Wave of Kanagawa is there, as is Kanbara Village in Winter, which was chosen by Weezer as cover art for one of their albums.

One of the major ideas in my game is the conflict between old and new, and I wanted to show that. Traditional prints of modern subjects: trains, people in modern dress, cars, steam ships, etc. So you'll see that in there. Finally, I wanted art that showed some of the Giri (Duty/job) players can choose in the book.

So three things really, different professions in Japan, my favorite art from the Masters, and old versus new. :)

The Sound of Water is your stretch goal collection. How did you choose authors and artists, and how did you pair them together?

It was a bit of a scramble to be honest. Months ago I'd asked six artists and six authors to consider doing a Stretch Goal that would a chapter and chapter header art for The Sound of Water. Most of my artists agreed, several were busy, but were tentatively yes, and three of my authors agreed, two said maybe. As you know, the Kickstarter was delayed from February to May because I was incredibly sick for nearly two months (all better now). This caused some confusion with both groups. A few thought things had happened, others were available now, and some were not. So right before the Kickstarter launched I confirmed who was in, all six artists and three of the authors, and then put out a call for more authors. I got almost enough responses as I was launching the Kickstarter and then the Kickstarter exploded.

Not only did the Kickstarter Kick, but we broke the first and second Stretch Goals, and I got a ton of offers for writing and art. I picked authors and artists I knew and who's work I both trusted and enjoyed.

When it came to pairing them together I made a couple of choices. I wanted first, people who were familiar with each other. You, Brie Sheldon, and Marissa Kelly ended up being the only two of the final twelve that knew each other, and I was certain you'd make a great team. You two were the easiest to pair. You are also my only all female team with Jolene Houser being my only other woman working on The Sound of Water. Two of my original authors who couldn't write for the project because of conflicts were also female, and no other female authors stepped forward when I put out the call besides you, for which I am eternally grateful. I'm a bit bummed that we don't have more women providing their talent to the book, but I am incredibly pleased with all the other authors and artists.

The next consideration was experience and exposure in the Industry. Don't get me wrong. I think all of the authors and artists are amazing, but some of them have been around the Industry longer than others, and some of them have more name recognition and a bigger draw. John Wick and my massively awesome still secret Eisner nominated artist. They are both big names and I wanted to pair them together as a big draw to hopefully boost pledges.

Finally, I wanted to pair styles of artist with the subject matter that the authors were working on. Fabien produces some truly haunting art and Tobie's A World of Shadows will be brought to life by Fabien's art. Josh and Jolene both produce great content and Josh wanted Jolene to take the lead and decide, so that was a cool way to create a chapter and it worked great! Steve is working on Ninja and Caleb has a long history in the gaming industry creating some excellent character art (see his work in Realms of Sorcery the Black Industries sourcebook for the Green Ronin edition of Warhammer Fantasy). I knew that would be a success. Finally, Stan and John Kennedy are working on a chapter together, the subject hasn't been revealed on the Kickstarter at the time of this writing. Rest assured that Stan's style will pair beautifully with John's subject matter. I can't wait!

Is combat common in A World of Dew? If so, how does it work?

I was working on final edits tonight for the Violence Chapter - Between Two Breaths for A World of Dew. Violence happens, but it's not like your typical hack n' slash. This isn't a game about minutiae, counting Hit Points, and proper Feats. Violence is quick and deadly like in Chambara films. The most basic violence in the game is called the Strike! One player calls Strike! and points at another player or the Narrator. They gather their dice, make their wagers and roll. The winner then spend their wagers to describe what happened even the death of the other character immediately. Like I said, quick and deadly.

Healing is just the opposite, and the Doctor Giri is an important part of keeping characters alive.

While it isn't always Violent the Sumo wrestlers, Sumo Tournaments, and Sumo Schools are all in the Violence chapter. Sumo characters have detailed rules about taking part in a tournament and bringing great Glory to themselves and their School!

What kind of play experience do you want people to get from A World of Dew?

A fun one! Hopefully, a samurai noir type experience. Being able to tell dark, gritty stories about ronin, geisha, gaijin, and more around their table is what I hope they're going to get out of it. The ability to bring that experience of watching Yojimbo, Zatoichi, or Princess Mononoke from their TV onto their table.

The City Locations are designed to help drive the plot forward via the expenditure of Honor and Ninjo points. Ninjo points are also something that didn't exist in John's Blood & Honor. Ninjo is Japanese for Desire, and it serves a similar but more selfish role as Honor points. It helps turn the stories you tell into the noir tales we're trying to experience. The quick and deadly violence, the Giri, and the Virtue Flaws are all designed to build on that dark noir story. The deep dive into Japanese culture that the rest of the game represents helps make it samurai. :)

What's up next for you after this?

Oh boy, a lot. Getting the books printed before GenCon and out to the backers. Then getting The Sound of Water finished and out to backers before Christmas. Going to GenCon, Phoenix ComicCon, RinCon, and all the other cons.

Then writing another game. This time a hack of a popular new system setting it in a place it's never been before. The most I'll say right now is it'll not be fantasy. There's another BIG game design project I'm slowly chipping away at. Or more correctly, I'm slowly working towards getting the rights to design the game. It's a massive IP that has no RPG developed for it, and a huge fan following that crosses over into the Gaming Industry. If I can get it I'll be over the moon. I tinkered with the idea awhile back with a partner, but that didn't lead anywhere. I've now got the bare bones for a new system and moving forward with that.

During all that I'll continue to go to my daughter's soccer games, play Lego: Marvel Superheroes with my three year old, and snuggle with my lovely wife while our corgi tries to snuggle under our feet. :)

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Five or So Questions with Marissa Kelly on Epyllion

Marissa told me about her upcoming project, Epyllion, soon to be seen at Gen Con!

Tell me about Epyllion. What's got you excited about it?

Sure! First, the word Epyllion means mini epic. It is a "comparatively short narrative poem that shows formal affinities with epics," like the Iliad. I felt like the word literally captured the epic nature that a game about baby dragons should have... And yes! Epyllion is a Powered by the Apocalypse game in which you play baby dragons who must help each-other change, grow, and save Dragonia from the Darkness that has crept back into the land and threatens to corrupt all it touches.

I am excited to combine some awesome genres that I love, like My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Lord of the Rings, under my all-time favorite system to play out an adventure of epic proportions.

What are you pulling from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic and Lord of the Rings to make Epyllion... well,epic?

When you first create your characters in Epyllion the game can seem very cutesy, but the threat of an ancient Darkness creeping back into the world tips the scales [pun intended] back to epic storytelling. Like in MLP or LotR the players are tested by this impending threat and are motivated to save the world they love.

I am a huge fan of both MLP and LotR so, as a designer, combining them and adding dragons into the mix has been nothing but fun. I wanted to make starting out as baby dragons feel like a hobbit being swept off on an adventure. I also wanted to make the friendships you develop with other PCs mean something, so like MLP's friendship = magic, PCs can spend Friendship Gems to call upon the moons and perform magical feats.

What does using the Apocalypse system bring to the table for Epyllion?

The AW engine has helped me design a game in which every mechanic supports the fiction that the table can create, from the playbooks to the Dragon Master moves. All of the AW-hacks have been built on such a sturdy framework of easy, no-prep, “play to find out what happens” gameplay that Epyllion fit in flawlessly.

Is this a kids game, a grown ups game, or both? What do you want players to get out of it?

Both! The great part about "play to find out what happens" is that it is shaped by the DM (Dragon Master) and their players. The game has mechanics that enforce a "feel good game," but the tone can be dark or light depending on who is running/playing it.

When can we expect to see Epyllion out in the wild, and what is up next for you?

I am planning to release the Epyllion: Drake Edition as an ashcan for GenCon this year. It will have all the rules you need to play the game and 6 playbook archetypes. Magpie will then run a kickstarter after that has some time to circulate.

As for what is next, I have a lot of fun ideas burning in my brain that I would love to get rolling on, but I am trying not to get ahead of myself.

Design Brunches and Collaborative Creation

Some of you may be aware that my local gaming community hosts semi-regular game design brunches. We basically get together on a Sunday and chat about game design, and everyone brings a problem with them if they have it, and we'll discuss things, do rapid playtesting, try out designs, bring prototypes, and all of that. I've discussed them before, but I want to delve a little more into some of the stuff I find valuable.

The first thing is that we have a wide variety of experience levels, backgrounds, and types of expertise in the group. I, for example, am mostly a writer and player (aside from now designing), with experience playing more traditional games as well as story games. Stras is an ace playtester, a designer, and has tons of experience with trad and story games alike. He also has a lot of technical knowledge and baseline design knowledge that I don't have. John, on the other hand, is our graphics genius, and is a really good designer, with traditional experience and the same level of story games experience as me - however, both he and Stras have GM'd WAY more than me. Paul is a designer (the only one paid-published of us, I think) and writer, with a ton of trad experience and story game experience, and one of his biggest points of value (imo) is that he plays with games that most of us have not or don't anymore (like GURPs and Gumshoe). Marc is almost exclusively traditional/OSR, and has a great mind for math, and is a designer who does most of his own writing. Rachel is mostly a player, but offers a unique perspective, is a great storyteller, and provides us with a good sounding board. Jeff and Heather both have traditional and story game experience, and both offer a good player perspective. Nick, who just started coming, is a really fantastic designer and writer with a lot of experience developing his own games.

I don't think I'm forgetting anyone! I hope not.  

Reading that, I think most people can see how we'd have a huge variety of input and different perspectives at every brunch, even if some people can't make it. We also have a good group that gets along pretty well.

It's awesome. It allows us a lot of opportunities to find flaws in design, or just redirect design that seems to be going away from its purpose. We also can focus on a variety of things: writing, graphics, technique, development, and prototyping.

This week, we playtested Nick's Medical Bay 3 creation, evaluated Tabletop Blockbuster playsheets, discussed Stras's Calamity Engine (super excited about that) and looked at his art inspiration for another project he's working on, and had a long discussion about scenarios for Clash. All in a few hours! (We also talked about Patreons, Creative Commons, power dynamics in the indie RPG industry, and gatekeeping.)

The conversation about Clash was really interesting for me. One of my first scenarios is based on Romeo and Juliet and written by Stras, and I am planning on doing a couple more in the main book with some as stretch goals if/when we crowdfund. I have some great creators in mind and a few already signed up. I am hoping to make this a successful product, and I think scenarios are essential to doing that.

Anyway, one of the coolest things about this is that with all of this variety in input, we have managed to create things by collaborating. Clash would not be where it is without the input of the group, nor would Tabletop Blockbuster. I know that we have put a lot of input into Stras's Hexes and Eights (which you should check out, btw). We also often run into solving problems for each other - I've written monsters for Marc's Paramount, while John has created character sheets, free-to-use dice icons, and other such things for the group. The others have contributed so many things, it's impossible to list them all.

We've had some shakeups in people's availability so we might have to start working around an occasional design dinner but I am hoping we can keep this up. I think it's really valuable.

Do you discuss design with your group? Do you have any regular get-togethers?

Do you find you design better alone, or with outside input?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

My Design Process, part 1 of ?

A lot of creators talk about their design processes, and since it's kind of a new thing to me, I wanted to write about this a little. I'm guessing I'll have more to say about it the farther along I get, so that's why this is a "part 1."

Most of the time when I do creative work, I do it on a whim. I'm still learning to create on a schedule and design in windows of time granted by my already busy schedule. I'll sit down and write a whole bunch and then leave it go or forget about it for a while.

There are two different methods by which I design: solo and collaboratively. We'll focus on solo for this post.

When I first started working on Clash, I wrote the whole thing in one big swoop and then came back to it and fiddled with it for a while later. This is how it tends to go when I work on my own. I will come up with an idea, basically blow my load, and then take forever to get back to it and really work on it and make it right. It's even harder when I add in an editorial process, which I think is the biggest challenge for me as a creator. It's not that I don't think my work needs to be edited - it does - it's that the editorial process exhausts me. I feel like I can't satisfy my editor or anyone giving me feedback. Every comment is like a cut. I'm getting better, but it's still a huge challenge.

I am also still learning how to effectively research. My current research process for projects involves about 10 open Chrome tabs, open books scattered across my desk, and using my phone to e-mail people for questions while I read. I never read other game books deeply while researching because I don't want to be too strongly influenced, but I skim and filter through for techniques and tools. I also read other people's analysis of game rules.

For me, designing is learning. I know I'm still a n00b and that it's going to continue to be challenging, but I think that I am making good progress. I'm hoping to have Clash as an ashcan at Origins and Gen Con, and soon thereafter take it to crowdfunding. While I'm doing that, we have continued work on Tabletop Blockbuster, and my larp, Girls' Slumber Party WOO!

Next time I'll write a little about the differences between designing a froofy story game like Clash, a more traditional style game like Tabletop Blockbuster, and a larp like Girls' Slumber Party WOO!

Please comment with questions! I like to discuss this kind of thing with my readers. Tell me about your game design process - link me to any blog posts you have done about this subject!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Woo! First goal reached! Hangout Interviews!

I am super excited! We reached our first Patreon goal, Hangout Interviews! This means that in the next few months I'll be working on finding interviewees and scheduling hangout interviews, which will be released on YouTube and Patreon.

HOORAY! Thank you all so much!

Friday, May 16, 2014

New Patreon is Up!

I've started a Patreon campaign to support the blog.

There are a lot of reasons for it. The primary reason? I want to keep supporting indie creators by putting their names and info on my blog and promoting their work.

It's also because I really hope to do more with the blog. Thoughty has been around for a while now in different incarnations, and it would mean a lot to me for it to keep going and growing. I think the big thing is that I want to be able to produce varied content - vlogs, audio, Five or So, design posts, and fiction posts. The Patreon will make that a little bit easier on me.

As a writer, I'm trying to teach myself to put real value in my own words, and I think that this is an essential part of it. I won't be counting every blog post for the Patreon, and no blog posts will be locked behind a paywall. I'm hoping that I can just produce more content with more variety, better research, and a wider audience.

Check out the Patreon if you get the chance!



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Five or So Questions with Whitney Delaglio on Prism

I interviewed Whitney Delaglio about her game, Prism!

Tell me a little about Prism. What has you excited about it?
Prism is a paper & pencil RPG that uses a d10 system. Its world is based on a web comic series I have been working on called Prism the Miracle. There are six realms, each with their own God or Goddess. The Red Realm, and its Goddess that represents blood, and emotion. The Orange Realm, and its Goddess that represents the sun, and storms. The Yellow Realm, and its God that represents life, and light. The Green Realm, and its Goddess that represents the forest, and earth. The Blue Realm, and its God that represents the sea, and procreation. The Violent Realm, and its God that represents shadows, the moon, and death.

There are also seven available classes (Assassin, Brawler, Captain, Healer, Hunter, Knight, and Mage) and seven races (Barbed Fish, Chameleon, Humanoid, Mammal, Plant, Shark, and Weed).

I am a huge fan of aquatic creatures, so I am excited about bringing their neat characteristics to the game, as the world is primarily water-based. I also put in an element system. I always liked that feature in JRPGs. Prism also has a 'Loyalty' system where depending on who your character is devoted to, they will be rewarded, or punished for their actions. I put this in the game to encourage roleplaying. The populace of each realm behave in a particular manor, and each realm has its own dos and don'ts. Along with religion, there is also a royalty system if players would rather go into politics. Of course, there's also opportunities for adventuring, battles, and warfare.

What sort of research did you do or development did you do for the different realms?
When I developed the realms, I kept their elements in mind for their geological appearance. For instance, the orange realm represents fire and storms, so I imaged the realm surrounded by volcanoes. I also wanted each realm to have certain mannerisms. So I developed how a civilian of each realm would behave according to their realm's code of ethics. Developing classes actually helped me to do this. For instance, I imagined knights to be rustic, and friendly. A good amount of the orange realm's funds come from weaponry and taverns. So, it made sense to make the realm’s populace earnest in nature and hospitable to others.

How do the classes and races interact mechanically?
I didn't want any one race to sound less interesting than the rest or only be suitable for one class. So, I made sure each race had fun qualities that would make more than one class selection appealing. For instance, sea mammals have a quality that make then look extra adorable. Any class could use to feint being harmless.

Could you explain your element system?
There are nine elements: blood, fire, shock, holy, plant, rock, aqua, frost, and dark. Every element is either strong against, or negates each of the other seven (ex: fire is strong against plant but does nothing to aqua), save for blood. Mages use eight of them (save for blood) to cast spells. Healers use all nine to heal, buff, or debuff others. Chameleons use the elements around then to change their body type to give them an edge in combat. The blood element is used to manipulate the bodies of others. In this world, the inhabitants of the realms are not aware of the brain, so they believe that the heart is the center of all thoughts and emotions.

What experience do you want players to get out of Prism?
I want them to above all have a fun roleplaying experience. A player having fun playing the game is the most important thing to me. I want them to enjoy immersing themselves, and their characters in the world of Prism. As I said, I wanted this game to be very roleplay heavy, so as I complete the game, I want to give the players the opportunity to do so, even in combat.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Five or So Questions with Jason Cox

I interviewed Jason Cox about his PhD!

Tell me a little about what you are doing. What has you excited about it?
I am working on my PhD in Arts Education at The Ohio State University, where I am just about to finish my second year. During my time here I have begun to realize the potential to unite a lot of areas I feel very passionately about, namely art, education, and role-playing games. Currently I am designing the proposal I am going to submit for my dissertation, which focuses on using American freeform as the Media of Inquiry for collaborative arts-based research. The general idea is to use the media with arts educators to consider alternative viewpoints within an educational community, such as those held by administrators, students, parents, and other teachers, and to consider how they believe the discourse of power operates in such a setting. Leading up to that I have built several pilot studies into my coursework to experiment with techniques and concepts that might be of particular use to me. My research is a bit of an odd duck, which is slightly terrifying as well as exciting, but I believe it has the potential to do real good in the world and could open up some tools to academia that many artist-researchers have not yet become aware of.

Why American freeform?
The short version is that American Freeform is remarkably accessible, is typically structured in a format that feels in alignment with that of arts-education, and has an assortment of different meta-techniques that can be used to explore conceptual and emotional states. Let me go into a bit more detail though...

By access I mean a few things. Firstly that the narratives American Freeform games normally use as settings are within the realm of understanding of most players, either in terms of emotions experienced or contexts explored, as opposed to the more epic flavor of fantasy larps. The generally minimal rule systems mean that players do not have to be heavily invested in learning complex systems, and because costumes and props are de-emphasized a game can be played with relatively little in the way of expenses or additional planning. All these traits also mean that anyone within the community of play could alter the form with ease, which is important to me because of the the goals I have regarding collaboration.
The format of most American Freeform is to begin a game with workshops that teach techniques that players might use, encourage familiarity between players, and establish an atmosphere that feels safe enough for the players to take a few risks. The games themselves are often intense for individuals, though it is impossible to know what is going on inside and between every character, and the collaborative nature of the media comes back into play. After the game is a period of reflection, often in a form of group discussion, that allows players to discuss their interactions during the game, make meaning of the event, and remind each other that whoever they were in the game they are once again themselves. This parallels a common format for education which goes along the lines of having a pre-assessment, introducing a new concept, working with the concept through a media, and reflecting on the experience. The reflection is where we believe a lot of the education really occurs, because it is the analysis of the experience that allows a student to look for what their next steps might be.
The meta-techniques get past the straight diegetic layer of any given game and explore things like inter-relationships, interior states, and the nature of time. To me they really open up larp as an art form and allow players access to unique states of exploration that are difficult to find in any other art form. They can affect the tone of the game, or create affordances for how different states are shared or explored, or offer opportunities to enrich the collaborative effort that just do not exist otherwise. Because they are so contextually specific they have a fluid nature that is dependent not only on the framework of the game, but on the players who are playing it... returning again to the collaborative focus I am trying to maintain.

Can you tell me about your pilot studies?
Sure! The first one I did was a game meant to examine the works of Michel Foucault I called "What to do About Michael?" Foucault's ideas focus on the relations between power, knowledge, and authority, and I found that while most people (including myself) could understand that the systems he identified existed they had a harder time admitting to the idea that they themselves might be a part of such a system. So for this game I had players take on the role of different teachers and administrators at an imaginary school where a young male student was running into some difficulties. Each player selected whatever contextual details they wished in terms of age, gender, subject they taught, and their attitude about the school. Leading up to the game they were sent readings by Foucault as well as short narratives I had written about different events "Michael" was involved in. Each event was actually based on events that had really happened to Foucault, including the last one wherein another student was attacked. The actual game took place as a faculty meeting that was specifically discussing the student's actions and what an appropriate response may be. In the reflection after the game players realized the positions they had taken to defend the institution, interpret Michael's actions, or interact with one another were all bound up in the systems of power they operated within.
The second and third studies I actually did concurrently. I used the experience of gathering players to play J. Tuomas Haarvianen's The Tribunal as an exploration for Action Research and to explore different narrative theories, specifically those of David Herman which are tied to cognitive science. Action Research is communally based research wherein problems, methods, and solutions are all identified and explored by the community itself, and I wanted to see if my goals for creating a community of play that was also a community of inquiry were viable. The narrative theory aspect was an examination of how players created and used their characters to support the rhetorical, synthetic, or thematic aspects of the game. In general my conclusion was that for the systems to work as I wanted them to it requires several different games, both in terms of forging a community through shared experience and so they players get to know and trust the people behind the characters. I also realized my own tendency to make assumptions about what players do or do not need, which I suspect is a bad habit I carried over from my time as a classroom teacher.
Most recently I have been doing an independent study and interviewing different people who work with a lot of ideas about role-playing. This is very much a reaction to the realization that there were things about the form that I simply did not know as well as a way to round out my ideas for what I want from the work I will be doing in my dissertation. The very fact that I can talk about any of this with any confidence is due to the kind people who have helped me out with this.

I'd like to hear a little more about the meta-techniques. Which ones do you find most valuable, and why?
My two favorite are probably monologuing and bird-in-the-ear, both of which give a view of a co-created reality that is concurrent with the one the characters are portraying. The general idea behind monologuing is that when a player is either asked to or chooses to monologue (depending on the game) they give a description of thoughts or events that inform on their current experience. I saw a beautiful example of this at a workshop in the Living Games conference where the other players took on roles described in the monologue, which in that case was a grieving parent discussing an experience that might have happened had they not lost their child. Bird-in-the-ear is kind of like having another player act as a "Jiminy Cricket" and whisper thoughts your character is having to you during a scene. It can color your perceptions and inform your actions, though it doesn't really control them. In a game of Previous Occupants I was in this was used very effectively to keep the tension high and the story moving. In both cases the techniques employ a lot of (surprise!) collaboration, but they also give a peek at the non-diegetic world I referenced earlier and tap into some very strong emotions.

Finally, what do you expect to see going forward from your research? Do you want to continue on with more game research?

In the near term I would like to work with a wider range of people. Right now I am really just planning on working with art educators, but I would like to open it up to other stakeholders (such as parents or administrators) in educational communities fairly soon. I also would like to apply the techniques in other sorts of institutional communities like hospitals, because I think there is a value in the multiple lenses of role-playing that really has not been explored outside of creating simulations. It's my hope that eventually other people in arts-education will take the media and run with it, do things I have not even begun to imagine yet, and then work with me to create yet more new things.
My answer probably makes my interest in continuing games-based research pretty clear, though when I started my program I never imagined that this is what I would be doing. I am absolutely thrilled by it because it is a place where so many of my interests come together and it is a place where I feel like I can make a real difference. The only thing I find more amazing than being a researcher into what that difference might be is how many people have supported me in my efforts trying to find out.

Thanks Jason!