Project DG

About six weeks ago, I made a card game. I fiddled with it for a couple of weeks, pitched it to a publisher, got a soft acceptance, and now I’m in the process of designing it some more.

This is a part of the process I never see anybody write convincingly about in their design diaries. This early-middle, bulking up part. I’m not sure I’m going to write anything enlightening either, but I want to try to get something down.

I am not so far along as to call what I am doing “development.”* Even though I have a fully functioning, somewhat fun, already pitched-and-accepted game, I’m still designing it.

Project DG is meant to be light and play quickly. So adding to it is subsequently more laborious. You have to do more work to make a shorter, simpler thing. But it needs more muscle on the bones. So I’m adding mechanics, systems so gossamer that they barely qualify for the name, trying to add depth without adding mass.

I’m failing so far, but this is to be expected. Welcomed even.

My high school girlfriend is now a renowned sculptor. We haven’t talked in years, but when I read about her process, it resonates with game design. (And I suspect, with most creative endeavors.) Here’s a quote about her work from a short biography:

Stichter’s large sculptures are first solid forms, built up around steel armatures with wet clay that she models and sculpts as she works. The amount of clay involved is huge—often 1,000 pounds or greater—and the effort of manipulating this heavy mass is also huge; Stichter describes literally digging in to the clay and slamming, pounding, working until she tires and needs a break to rest and reflect on the next approach.

In game-design analogy, it’s like making every game Agricola-dense and then hollowing out to get a Ticket to Ride.

I’ve gone way wide of the mark if Project DG gets Agricola-dense! But I’m in the part of design where the game is chunkier and slower and solid-er than the final product should be. In today’s playtest, my partner commented that the game was more strategically interesting, but taking far longer than our first tests of the game a few weeks back. The game has gotten head-scratchy with all these new additions. I’m aiming for a 10-minute playtime, and one game today was probably twice that long.

My takeaway from this is: “Good. Now to add some more stuff.”

I’m actually a little ahead of schedule, thanks to some muse tourism at the start of the thing. But I’m not done tossing more clay onto the armature. Another entire subsystem is probably still in the offing.

You need too much so that you can pare back to the correct pieces that make enough. I don’t know how long that will take, but I’m hoping not too long. A few more weeks.

If you’re reading this in the first half of 2018 and want to help playtest, find my email in the About section.


* For one thing, I think development is someone else’s job. Just as a writer should not be their own editor, a designer should not be their own developer. That said, no writer would tell you they don’t edit their own work! But the writer’s editing is part of the writing, not part of the “editing.”






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Megagames, birth of a species

I moved to Texas a couple of years ago (around the same time that Dire Curious got ghosty).

Now I live in the greater Austin area. This place is lousy with gamers, but moving is such a displacing activity that reforming the relationships that lead to fun gameplay takes excellent good fortune or indefatigable extroversion, and neither has visited me since my arrival.

One bit of good fortune I did enjoy was the advent of megagames in the United States. I wandered into the idea somewhere and was smitten immediately. Very few people know what a megagame is, and it doesn’t lend itself to an easy explanation. But for gamery types, it’s like an RPG and a board game with some diplomacy and escape room play all rolled in together, played by dozens of people simultaneously.

I don’t have a succinct non-gamer definition yet, but I’m working on it.

About mid-2016, I got in touch with an organization called Megagame Society, based in New York, who are sort of a clearinghouse for information in the US. I asked if anyone was working on this locally. They said no, and sent me some starter information. I knew it would take time to get it all up and running, but I started to work.

Then a week later they wrote back and said, “Oh, there is someone after all. Here’s contact info.”

To my surprise and pleasure, they were open and welcoming, so I jumped on with Megagame Texas in time to help them promote and run their first game of Watch the Skies, last September. We’ve run two more since, and have at least two more n 2017 on the schedule now.

In fact, there’s one coming up on May 13, 2017. If you’re in the central Texas area, get in touch and I can give you more info!

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My First Euro

At Gen Con this weekend, we were talking about our first euro game experiences. I was surprised to learn that my first game had started so far behind everyone else’s.

My first happened at Wizards of the Coast, c. 1998. Several members of R&D had been to Germany for some convention known as “Essen Spiel”, and it was decided that all of R&D should have a day for being exposed to these new European-style games.

The first game I played was Mississippi Queen, a game of racing riverboats down a procedurally generated river (the procedure being, “roll a direction die and attach interlocking river tiles to create a linear board”). That day, I also played Zoff in Buffalo (Trouble in Buffalo, a game curiously better titled in a different language than its publication) and some 2-player blocking game about ghosts trying to stop you from crossing a room.

Mississippi Queen is a fairly simple racing game with some unforgiving player elimination. It would probably not even get picked up by a publisher today. But I own a copy, and pull it out occasionally with the right crowd.

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Destiny first thoughts

Destiny Logo Tricorn Vector by ValencyGraphicsI might have erred in starting to play a console game again. I’ve read a lot about how Destiny is either an awesome game or a tech demo with gamey aspirations.

Arguments like that are clever iterations of “I like it” or “I don’t like it.” Me, I like it. It could be better, but I’m glad it’s not. If it were better, I would buy the thing and sink into it and get nothing else done for two weeks.

As it is, I have run all three classes up to the limit of the free trial. Putting down money now is enough of a barrier that I won’t get pulled into its charybdis for a few months. But I want to. I want to dive down and down and forget responsibility and obligation and just shoot aliens forever.

So I give it a 7. Later this year, when they release a bundle with all the expansion content, I’ll probably bite harder.

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Additional grist

In my recent Wake the Dragon series, I made an informal list of RPGs that crept in to fill the D&D void in the last couple of years. Here are two more that have popped up since.

Codename: Potato
I have no idea what Rob Schwalb is up to, but I want to. Here’s a link to a timer counting down to some reveal in a month. Knowing Rob, it will involve something you could classify as “metal.”

Codename: Potato

Five Moons
Sean Reynolds is a longtime friend of mine, harkening back to TSR days. So, naked is my bias. This looks like a fantasy heartbreaker to me–one person deciding that s/he can do D&D better than D&D can.

Here’s the twist: Sean is on the extremely short list of people I would consider qualified to succeed, in the work, if not in the market. (Nobody knows what will succeed in the market.)

Five Moons Kickstarter link

Sean’s Five Moons site

The RPG business has adapted rapidly in the last couple of years to personality-as-brand. Genre, mechanics, setting, subject matter, these are not currently the biggest selling points compared to WHO is making the thing. So I’ll keep watching that evolve.

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D&D: 2d12

d12We were playing Iron Kingdoms last week and someone mentioned a preference for a bell curve over a flat curve. In an unrelated conversation, we were talking about how useless d12s are, and what shame, since we all like them.

I decided to pair these ideas up and rewrite D&D to work with 2d12 as the main resolution mechanic. I know, the game’s not even out yet and I’m already houseruling it. That’s a good sign for D&D.

I also included some stuff about alignment which my review group decided was an opportunity to get mouthy about the return of 3×3 D&D alignment. That threw me because of all the loopy things in D&D, how is that not just part of the loop?

I’m tempted to write in more depth about my thinking about 9-grid D&D alignment, but holy shit does anyone left on Earth care about what anyone else thinks about D&D alignment?

Anyway, here’s newstyle D&D rewired to work with 2d12. If you try this out, let me know how it goes.

2d12 D&D for the masses


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Wake the dragon. I’m Batman.

i-m-batmanI wanted to get this post written before the new D&D freebie document went live last week. I would have seemed more prescient. But having skimmed the 5e rules, my opinions are at least validated.

The surprising thing is how unsurprising the whole thing is. Not just because they spoiled it all in their playtest period, but because it’s primarily 3e with tweaks. There’s about a thousand reviews of the new product, most of which are better than I would bother offering, so go read some of those if you want it.

Here is what no one else is saying yet: D&D has become Batman.

Continue reading

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Wake the dragon. The 4th Age.

So in 2008, Wizards produced 4th edition. People tried real hard to like it (some succeeded), but the general consensus was that it kind of stank. At that time, indie and retro games were on the rise, but Wizards of the Coast RPG R&D was not-just-a-river-in-Egypt about what was happening. Continue reading

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Wake the dragon. Indie + Retro.

Even before the rise of Kickstarter, electronic publishing, print-on-demand, or desktop publishing, RPGs were a thing that lots of people tried to do. Even back in the hoary days of paste-up in the ’70s and ’80s, you had TSR, FGU, ICE, and several other companies that weren’t three-letter acronyms.

Not everybody who dreams of professional football or going to space gets to do it. But everybody who dreams of RPGs has a shot at being a roleplaying game designer/publisher. That has led us to 5th edition in a painful way. Continue reading

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Wake the dragon. The OGL.

D&D has had five fallow years. A new version is upon us. As with a lot of game stuff, I know more than I’m telling, but not as much as I’d like to know. I’m going to spend a few posts taking about some things I think about the state of RPGs and I’ll hazard some guesses about what’s next that, statistically, will be embarrassingly wrong. Continue reading


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