A design journal, sort of.
One of the things I like most about the Mothership RPG books is how they manage their information density. There is a LOT crammed into each page, and it all still works. The Player’s Survival Guide is a decent example of this, using a traditional two column layout, but the adventure modules like Dead Planet and beyond are where this really starts to ramp up.
Page for page, there are thick layers of info, but it’s all presented in such a way that you’re never lost. You can see the obvious care that went into every inch of the layout, where every idea is given its due. Considering the physical constraints of a “page”, there’s no sense of compromise.
In terms of getting projects out the door, applying “information density” has been a big motivator for me. As someone who has trouble being concise with their ideas, the value of being able to add more is very appealing. Combine that with design challenges that force me to narrow my overall scope, such as a “business card” jam, or a “one-page adventure” and my productivity seems to find a sweet spot. Draw me a box, show me how much space I have to work with. When it’s full, I’m done.
Currently, I’m working on a pamphlet adventure for Troika! A pamphlet. Two pages, six panels. Inside, outside. That’s it. Perfect. So I thought I’d examine my process on this one and see how I managed to fill up each box and be happy with calling it “done”.
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It’s rare that I finish making a game, but I take great lengths to make sure it’s playable!
I have a party-RPG prototype in which you share a taxi with a group of strangers, one of which is a werewolf. The game has 12 stops (aka: rounds). At the start of the game, each player secretly rolls a stop number and a “Wolf Out” number. The person who rolls the lowest Wolf Out number is the lycanthrope and will get both shaggy and hungry when they reach the corresponding stop number. The remaining players are human after all, and try to survive long enough to make it to their stop numbers without being eaten.
I got to wondering about a few things: How the pace of the game might change with different numbers of players? How soon should the werewolf appear? What would the distribution of stop numbers be? How often would a player be left to fend for themselves while everyone else had escaped?
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Zine Quest 2, Too
And we’re back. Another handful of my favorite 2020 Zine Quest games, these all went live on Kickstarter during the last half of February. As of this writing there’s maybe one left that has yet to finish its campaign? But all have funded! This’ll be a much shorter list of gems compared to my last post, but gems nonetheless.
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Zine Quest 2
If you’re following me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen me retweet dozens of “#ZineQuest2” games since the beginning of February. If you are still following me (thanks) you might even be interested in some of these games. So I thought I’d do a bit of a round-up to highlight my favorites so far.
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How’s the Weather?
I’ve always liked the idea of using weather to alter a TTRPG scenario. Like an organic knob that can be adjusted before a session, allowing a game master to increase or decrease the the amount of peril a group might face. As a design element, it would be a quick and relatable way to accommodate different groups and offer variance in a well used setting.
As a quick warm-up, let’s take the usual medieval fantasy RPG backdrop and sprinkle on some seasonal seasoning. We’ll take the same adventure and apply four separate seasons to it and see what that generates for us.
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Years ago I made a prototype for a board game set in a dark-humour dystopia where players took on the role of waste management professionals. Their job, to sort the garbage that accumulated at their central processing facility. During the game, players salvaged and smuggled various materials for themselves, which they could then craft into various items that granted different advantages and abilities.
The salvageable idea from this game is the use of permutations to create an organized crafting system. Because a core mechanic of the game was about crafting dozens of items, I wanted to make sure there was a way to keep track of the materials used for each item, and that each crafting “recipe” was unique.
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I read RPG books exponentially more than I play the games they are meant to conjure. Within each of them, one thing remains consistent. The system or setting routinely assumes that some form of violence is going to occur and that players will need to know, in great mechanical detail, how to carry it out.
So, question: Are extensive combat rules included in games because designers assume that players are likely to resort to violence? Or, that because extensive combat rules exist, players feel compelled to resort to violence?
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A Good Idea
Dabbling in both tabletop and digital games, over the last few decades I have amassed a respectable (i.e.: embarrassing) stack of unfinished prototypes. Many still taking up space on a hard drive or contributing to the bowing of a shelf somewhere. The shelf looks happy, so I leave it alone.
But there’s got to be some gold in those unfinished abstracts, right? I figure that any given prototype has at least one salvageable idea. So, over the next few posts, I thought I’d take a look at a few of my favourites and share them with the void.
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