July 25, 2009


Filed under: Games — bilbo @ 10:02 am

Over on Clash’s new blog, he discusses the ideas of System Structure and buried within his post is a bit about innovation. This is an important point to me as I have much the same view on it.

Innovation in systems is, in my opinion, more about the designer’s ego than anything to do with “doing it better” or any sort of “system progress”. I would go as far as to say 9 out of 10 times it is an illusion, a more complicated way to do something because the author wanted to do some thing “new” or different. Being different for its own sake is not a good way to serve your customers. The problem most folks face is that they will see some mechanic and bring their own subjective prejudices to it. You like that mechanic and it is “cool and innovative” because you either have never seen it before (even though you probably have) or you like the author or you like d10s and it uses d10s.

I am guilty of the exact same thing. I believe it combines a few factors. The first is how much we, as gamers, want to recapture that feeling we had when we played our first game. We want it to be new and cool and a different way of doing our favorite thing. Another issue could well be the belief that “It must get better”. Look at technology. Over time one person builds on another person’s work. We like the idea that things progress, innovation happens and the things we are excited about and love get better.

Let’s take a moment on that “get better” part. Innovation is not necessarily better but that is an argument for another day as I am not convinced that innovation is as common as perceived in RPGs. However, the more fundamental issue is that for progress to be made, the next game must be better than the last. This just cannot be true IMO. Games are a function of preferences. Some people will like Monopoly while others prefer chess. Both are board games but both have different Elements. Elements, as I discussed before, are those small pieces of play that we enjoy/hate so very much. When a “new” game comes out, you have a different arrangement of elements that might appeal to a different group of customers but to say it is empirically “better” is a fallacy. It may be different. I may be popular. However, i would not characterize it as better.

So, where does innovation come in? Unfortunately, many designers look to trying to innovate the elements. These are things like task resolution methods and how you do something. I feel that true innovation comes from the form of the game. That is to say, how you combine the elements, what you leave out, what you include and how they interact. Even here, innovation may not be as prevelent as is promoted. Remember, it pays to say your game is innovative. It pays (either in money or you ego) to have people say your game is innovative.

Innovation is seldom something that is easy, predictable or common.

July 19, 2009

My thoughts on D&D and tactical play

Filed under: Games — bilbo @ 8:12 pm

I played in a d20 3.5 game run by Mark from Creative Mountain Games at Chicago Gameday. A fun time to be sure but it made me realize a few things. Chief amongst these is the difference that a lot of folks do not see between using powers and tactical gaming. See, we came to a bridge and the first response of all the other players were to lay down spells or powers to cross the bridge (which was unsafe and all but falling down). Mark, the GM, seemed to think my ideas to utilize the rope and cross using conventional tactics was met with the traditional “If you do that I will make the group make skill checks that they do not have. Find another way”. This steered every one back to spells. Eventually, a combination of spells and conventional tactics helped us cross the bridge. The point that hit me though was that it seemed they thought my mundane methods were unnecessary. I am not sure if this was because we were playing 9th level or more alarming, that this is a shift in play style that, to be frank, i am poorly equipped to deal with.

Now, I do not want to make too much of one game with one group. Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I had fun. Still, part of me keeps going back to that bridge and wondering if this is what “tactical” play is currently and where it will be in the next 5 years.

July 17, 2009

Predicting the Industry

Filed under: Business — bilbo @ 5:25 pm

A popular sport of all time it has now become a bit of a frenzy. Part of it is he said this and part of it is that person questioned that with a big dose of every one questioning everyone else’s cred. The end result is rather comical in the worst kind of dark humor that reveals more about the “seers” thank anything about the future of the RPG industry. I have been involved in the industry for a long time. Longer than most people realize. I generally do not wave it about like a badge of honor or anything mainly since most of it is stuff that the vast majority of people either would not believe or choose not to believe. I have heard the “end of the industry” along witht he “end of the hobby”. When magic came out, industry folks in the know said that was the end for RPGs. Late 90s, CCRPG would kill the industry in 5 years. In 2000, it was MMORPGs.

My father once told me, “Bill, whatever you do, never believe your own bullshit. If you do, no one will be able to convince you otherwise and you will end up on the loosing end.” This is, I believe, the heart of it. Folks decide that the ideas they have are right and just push on to reinforce it more and more. You end up with proclamations of the end of times every 5 years or so (sometimes more often).

What will happen, as it always has happened, new methods of doing business will arise. Some folks will adopt them and fail, some will adopt them and succeed, some will not and fail and some will not and continue. You have companies that are still around 20 or more years into this. Some that are brand new. A great example of this is the retail tier of the industry. Here you have an original start with hobby stores. RPGs being sold next to model airplanes. Then you had athe first dedicated game stores. Then you had card/RPg hybrids. Now you see all manner of new models arising including online and entertainment models. The industry will go on, but it will evolve. Into what, I cannot say (if I could I would be WotC).

On a side note, a lot has been thrown up about “needing” the industry. Gamers do not need the industry on several levels. If the need a rules set, there are more than enough out there and will continue to be remainders sitting on pallets for the foreseeable future. Rule books are not consumable. Sure, 50 years after the last RPG book is printed you might have an issue but not in the foreseeable future. Couple this with the ability, nay, the inherent nature of RPGs to be customizable and you reduce any need to a convenience. Mind, for some it is pretty highly valued but still not a need.

Now, here is the thing, what we as publishers should do is look for ways to provide that convenience. In some cases it is a case of system rules, in some cases settings or adventure ideas. In all cases it needs to keep with the easiest means to access and use the rules books. Things that seem to be after thoughts to some publishers like bookmarks in digital copies or indices in print copies, looking at the book in terms of entertainment but also remembering it is a reference book.

In the end, as I have said before, the industry is evolving. There will be pain. More importantly, it is academic. As a company you cannot control it but you need to react to it. As a customer, you can only vote with your dollars.

July 15, 2009

Covers of games I have yet to publish

Filed under: Games — bilbo @ 11:09 pm

I love making covers. It is a weird thing but it is one of those things I like doing. Here are a few for games in the hopper or even farther out….

tern cover

Brit Cover

Chevalier cover

Echoes Cover

Neb SE

FS cover

So many and so little time….Maybe Clash can help me with Neb SE. 😉

July 11, 2009

How I design a Game : Maps

Filed under: Games — bilbo @ 9:16 pm

Map creation for me is like the life blood of any supplement or setting. Sure, I have seen better maps than my, more pretty that is, but I believe mine rank up there with the most useful. Maps to me should inspire and should actually impart ideas. You should not need to look up my descriptions, you should be able to look at one of my maps ans say “Man! I know what I would put there!”. That was my first reaction when I was first getting modules. I would rip out the maps and make my own adventures. Some may not have been as good as the written module but they were 100% mine. And it rocked. And my group liked that I was jazzed up. That is what a good supplement should do. It should jazz the GM up, get him excited about running the game.

So, when I sit down to draw a map I muse. I kind of glaze over and think about what adventure hooks should be in the supplement/game. Then I start building the map in my head. Cave of the White Tears here. The Grey Woods there. The Andessis Sea here with the Bay of the Boar there. It snowballs and the map fills itself in. When I am finished, I have not written or drawn a thing. It all sits in my head like a buffer waiting to be printed. Then, usually in a rush, it all comes out and I begin drawing and documenting. I tend to draw maps very quickly and like the ability that digital processing has to let me go back and edit.

In the end, I end up with something like this.
Nendia Map

SA! House

July 8, 2009

How I design a Game: Inspriation

Filed under: Games — bilbo @ 10:48 pm

I go through a strange process from what I have read of how other designers get inspiration. Most of them talk of how they have this movie or that book or this media or that one but it always sounds very external. They read games, then go and make something based on that. That sounds a bit nasty as though I am saying they do not have an original point in their work but for me, it is much more an internal method.

First, I have and actual effort I go through in creating or inspiring myself. It is much like a headache but less sharp. More of state of intense concentration. During this period, many ideas will come flying in. This leads to the second part, and it is a series of rejections as I recognize and idea or realize it is not viable. Third, I organize the ideas in a free form cool down phase. During this period is when I suspect I am at my most creative, in that I have a number of elements that modify the ideas I have.

So, for example, I will decide I need a new adventure for the group. I will site down at the computer, or on the patio or at the coffee shop and go through a “brainstorming” phase. Then once generated and organized, I will allow them to float. When I came up with SA! I had a number of factors that most likely influenced me from various chatter on the RPG forums to my re-reading the NIMH story some months before. The result was rather strange but somewhat appealing and very non-offensive.

I should point out at this point that his is how I internally inspire or think of new ideas. Certainly, I am influenced by the external as well but it has always come to the above process. A very internal and difficult thing to explain. Not because it is personal or private, but because it is so ethereal to me, it has such an unreal sort of element to it in that I am not sure I understand it. This makes it very difficult to describe.

Powered by WordPress