Friday, December 10, 2010

13- Unlucky for some

I finished the 50 000 words on Victoria and the Hazard system which means I "won". Winning simply means that you beat the target of 50 000 words but as I managed to all but complete a fist draft I feel like I really achieved something.

From experience with other types of writing the rewrite always takes more time than the first draft. Victoria is unlikely to be any different as there are large chunks I have only covered in outline as research is more time consuming than the wrimo schedule will allow for.

Even though it was counter-productive to the timeline I spent quite a bit of time revising rules as I went along too but in all I was able to keep on top of the daily word count. It's a personal achievement I can cross off my list.

Overall I would recommend the process even to a game developer for a few reasons. The first being that as you have to make a certain number of words all those sections you have written in your head, but hate the idea of taking the time to write, now suddenly become your favourite bits to work on. You can now crank out days and days worth of writing getting these down without getting stuck and grinding through unfamiliar territory. Writing 1667 words one day, easy. Writing 1667 words every day for thirty days not so much.

The second reason is that with all the previous work being so fresh you start to see connections and can more easily carry a tone through the work reducing rewrite time. I struggled with what viewpoint to use in the writing. I hope I got it right.

The third good thing about working with this time constraint is, because you are totally immersed, problems from earlier will resolve themselves almost magically. As the issues stay current, rattling around in your head, disparate elements seem to suddenly come together to create a satisfying solution. I find that given enough time a solution will always present itself but the more time that passes the more likely that "solution" will actually clash with other elements you have forgotten.

Now, on to the rewrite.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

12- Ready, Set, Go

I've got most of the pre-production things done and with November 1st being tomorrow I thought as a way to complete two things I've wanted to do at the same time I'd enter nanwrimo and get the first draft of the rules and setting down and try to complete the writing challenge too.

It's probably not in the exact spirit of the "competition" but giving myself this timeline will help me to get it all down and then I can go back and revise.

See you in a month.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

11- Nuts and Bolts

The last couple of months have been productive but not so much in a pen to paper way. Has "pen to paper" become a saying that transcends its literal meaning yet? If not then "finger to key" would be more accurate.

I've done a lot of searching for evocative images, contacting artists and owners of artistic works, and worked on developing a company identity as well as securing various web addresses.

I know this seems a little backwards but as I'm planning to publish electronically at the same time as in paper, getting these sorts of things organized early means I won't have to go back changing logos etc. as I get closer to publication date.

Putting the cart before the horse perhaps...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

10- Playtest Two

As part of the playtesting process I took the partially completed game with me to New Zealand (where I used to live) so that I could test it out with some of my old roleplaying friends. Yesterday was my first serious test of the resolution system and for the concept as a whole as, to quote someone "There is no greater friend than a friend that will tell hurtful truths" and I could rely on these guys to give it to me straight

Thanks to David, Richard, Scott and Sue for helping me test the system a second time. Their input was invaluable and their advice based on about 60 years roleplaying experience spread across a lot of different systems leaves me with a little more tweaking but more importantly with the feeling that I'm onto something.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

9- Origins

I'm just back from Origins. I had a good time and it was great to see a possible future venue for having a booth. The organizers are very accessible and they have a great deal for next year for first time displayers (is that a word?). I'm not sure if I'll be at the vending stage this time next year but certainly the year after.

I got to meet up with Fred Hicks whose advice really crystallized the production model I would use as well as Luke Crane who ran an awesome game of his Burning Empires rpg.

I also played in another couple of game systems which I'd not played before. By the end I was somewhat familiar with the system but I still needed to ask what to roll and how to work out a dice pool which ruined the immersion to a certain degree. Part of it is the GM certainly (I didn't experience this in Luke's game even though I'd not played it before) but part of it is the inherent complexity of the system. I'm hopeful this will be an advantage of the Hazard System.

Friday, June 18, 2010

8- Playtest One

Last night was the first playtest of the system and it seemed to go fairly well. Part of it was the system but the majority of it was the attitude of the play testers. There weren't too many holes and the ones that there were, were dealt with graciously.

Some issues that arose were:
* more refinement is required in the conflict resolution system especially in a situation where direct contact is not initiated e.g. sneaking up on someone. I have ambushing fairly well defined but "sneaking up" requires a little work. Perhaps some kind of single roll similar to a conflict with an inanimate object.

* definition of what actions can be taken once you were "bested" in a conflict. Besting is an idea I'm working on to reduce the dead/alive ending to a combat. I think it's more dramatic for there to be a final decision when a character has bested someone instead of just ending with a body on the floor.

* characters were underpowered. The players felt that even as starting characters they should be able to rely on 1 or two of their primary skills. Across the board failure is no fun. I should have done more rolling myself.

* there should be a mechanism for deciding who acts first or initiative. This one was a simple fix

* there should also be a mechanism for applying a skill you don't have. Again easily fixed. All characters have a minimal aptitude in all areas.

Some positives were:
* the marker/story point system for adjusting rolls although not well defined was appreciated. Players liked being able to use them to modify a roll after they'd rolled. This is in line with some of the ways I imagined they might be earned. The players agreed that if they were awarded for something meaningful they should have meaning when they are spent not just vanish due to the vagaries of a roll.

* the fact that skills worked in both directions was appreciated

* always rolling the same dice was appreciated as compared with determining dice pools modifiers etc.

One other thing came out of the session, and I would recommend it if you are play testing: as the designer, give the first criticism in the feedback session. It gets people talking about what they liked and didn't like and also removes the stigma of casting the first stone.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

7- Playtests

When should you start playtesting a game?

I think the answer is when you have your system worked out. If you don't have a system just an idea you may have just written a supplement to an existing game.

I still have some concerns with how the Hazard system will play out but as the first play-test is just a couple of days away it won't be long before I find out.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

6- Resolution II

I'm rapidly finding that, for me at least, the more I work at something the more inspiration I get and for the last few days I've been working off and on at turning hazard into a resolution system. It's been a challenge.

I wanted to develop a system that has enough flexibility to create detailed resolutions, particularly for combat, but is very simple to learn. The final design constraint I put on myself was that the system had to be a fast and seamless part of the roleplaying.

So in a nutshell I wanted the game part of Victoria to serve the roleplaying part, interrupting the flow of the story as little as possible or even enhancing it.

Worryingly this puts me completely at odds with Gary Gygax, one of the creators of Dungeons and Dragons, who is on record as wanting to minimize roleplaying in his game. His feelings were that the dramatic roleplaying element should serve the game element and he created* the best selling roleplaying game of all time!

Fortunately, one of the great things about roleplaying games is that they fall on a continuum in this respect and so do peoples tastes so maybe it's not so bad.

Anyway, today it finally all came together and a whole slew of other ideas about conflict resolution resolved themselves as well. I think I managed to create a system of dice rolling that is the echo of hazard I was looking for as well as meeting the other points I was aiming for.

Once I had the concept for the system I spent a few hours breaking it down statistically to check that it didn't contain any quirks. Lucky I did because there were a few but they turned out to be a good thing as the solutions to these problems had the unintended consequence of also helping to answer some of the questions I still had about experience points.

Of course play-testing will really show whether this is workable or not.

*I didn't forget Dave Arneson!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

5- Resolution System

A resolution system has the ability to add some flavour to the game so I want to make sure I get this right.

I'm still tossing up (no pun intended) whether to go with a dice system or a card based system.

The card system has the advantage of being catchy and unique and I can tie it to the gambling the raison d'etre of the gentlemen's club, the disadvantage is that I can't think of a really successful system that uses cards for resolution. I'm not saying they don't exist I've just never played one.

The big advantage of a dice system is the familiarity. RPGs and dice go together like email and bacon.

The gentlemen's clubs of the age had several popular dice games which might be useful for resolution. One in particular "hazard" has possibilities but I'm having trouble finding a way to streamline it. Stay posted...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

4- An Unclubbable Man

Today I was thinking about how to incorporate the Victorian institution of the “Gentleman’s Club” into Victoria. Today “gentleman’s club” carries different connotations than back then. English readers will partially identify this as being basically a strip club. Back then it meant an inner-city refuge for the elite of society; a place to get away from the trivialities of life... such as women.

Initially my thought was to incorporate them as a flavour of the age but as I delved deeper into their histories, membership requirements (such as they are: the Traveler’s club requires that a prospective member must have traveled at least 500 miles in a straight line from the club) and mandates I began to feel that they could have a more central role to play in the character creation process.

I haven’t really started into character creation yet so I’m excited to see where it will take me. Basing characters in a club has given me the impetus to start into the processing of figuring out what characteristics will define a character in Victoria. Of course many of the characters will be unfortunate “unclubbable” types but proceeding from the expectation that a character will be a “gentleman” is very much in line with the Victorian age.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

3- What's in a Name

I'm fortunate to have worked in web design and I know that having a web presence is vital, particularly as I want to initially publish via PDF as a way to minimize financial risk. With this in mind I needed to get a good domain name that will also be a compelling title.

My first choice for the game was Victoria, so I checked, it's strong, and obviously evocative, but, equally obviously, already taken. Postage stamps were first issued around this time so I thought Penny-black might be ok (taken) and then I looked for Penny Red, the second stamp that lasted for about half the Victorian era, also gone.

I went back and looked for combinations involving Victoria and settled on and With them I could still use the name I wanted but also have a web address that was easy to remember. Eventually you'll find this very blog linked at that site. In fact you probably already have.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

2- What's It All About?

In the past I played a lot of White Wolf games and the games I ran gravitated towards The Hunters Hunted and especially Project Twilight. They had regular people fighting the supernatural with the opportunity to prevail through stoic single mindedness.

These were people and characters I could relate to, operating in a world I knew with goals I could identify with. This was the idea I started with but I didn't want to just create the same games as I'd played. A few tweaks here and there, a different resolution scheme but essentially the same game wouldn't do it.

It was important to me to incorporate the possibility of the supernatural but use our world as the setting. Historically speaking the last time there was widespread interest in, and acceptance of the supernatural, was during the Victorian era. I did some reading put together a few time-lines and discovered that the setting offers a lot of possibilities even apart from anything supernatural. There's also the possibility that if my game is successful I can write a setting for America, specifically the wild west, at some time in the future.

So that's it. My first full roleplaying game will be somewhat supernatural set in the Victorian age. Old-boys networks, the occult, Jack the ripper, cockney mud-larkls, Dracula and science performed for its own sake on stormy nights.

Now a name...

Monday, May 24, 2010

1- Out of the gates

Over the last few posts I laid out my history with roleplaying games and how I'd always wanted to write my one game and or be employed in the industry.

What specifically set me on the path to producing my own game was listening to a roleplaying podcast called Fear the Boot that featured an interview with Fred Hicks of Evil Hat in which he outlined the path he took to producing Don't Rest Your Head and Spirit of the Century.

The crucial parts of the interview for me were his discussion of how advances in technology had provided new opportunities for indie publishers to get their game out there and how print-on-demand publishing had substantially reduced the financial risk associated with producing a commercially viable product.

It was the combination of these two ideas in the context of roleplaying that inspired me to finally attempt to independently write and publish my own game.

This blog will outline the trials and tribulations of this process.

Where it All Began Pt. 5

After those early years I met some people in high school and moved onto Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Middle Earth Roleplaying, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Paranoia, Rolemaster, Car Wars and probably several others. The longest running campaign I played in was Dragonlance which we played up until module 8.

At the end of high school I didn't play very much and then not at all as I went through university. It wasn't until I was in graduate school that I got back into it. On a whim I went to the university's roleplaying group one night and happened to be in the right place at the right time to join a Mage the Ascension game.

The game was part of what White Wolf called "a renaissance of gaming". A little grandiose to begin with perhaps, but in many respects the games did lead the way for a shift in the types of game being produced. Their games were at the vanguard of a shift towards emphasis on character, cohesive backstories and a fleshed out mythos players could legitimately feel their characters had a stake in.

First edition Vampire, Werewolf, Mage and Wraith certainly weren't the first games to place the emphasis here but they captured my imagination like The Mystery of Chimney Rock had. I preferred the style of roleplaying they encouraged but it was the way the GM made it work that really showed me what was possible with roleplaying. We played that game every week for about three years and it was great every time. I still hold myself to the standard he set today.

Since then I've played pretty consistently without too much concern for the exact system. The whole time though, in fact since I knew what roleplaying was, I have wanted to make writing games and playing games my living. This blog is about my attempt to do that and if you're reading this I guess I have succeeded, at least in producing one game, if not fame and riches.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Where it All Began Pt. 4

Now with dice I could almost start playing Dungeons & Dragons. The last piece of the puzzle was someone to play with at every available moment. So, I did what any normal person would do and tried to run games for my father, brother and mother. These games invariably ended in disaster. If you ask my mother about those sessions all she'll recall was me saying "You can do whatever you want" at the start followed by "You can't do that" as soon as she tried to do something.

The disasters were largely associated with my in inability to convey the fine line between being able to do anything you want and the necessity of the dungeon master to control that freedom through the use of the dice. It seemed like a simple idea to me but perhaps that goes to the heart of why there are so few roleplayers.

I can't be too hard on my mother, she got me my first dice and photocopied large tracts of Dungeons and Dragons rulebooks and character sheets for me at the school where she worked. In fact she had to contend with an evangelical christian lady in the office who, despite not owning the photocopier, refused to allow my mother to use it to copy "the work of the devil". My mother, resourceful as she was, waited until she went to lunch or home for the day to get it done.

Those of us old enough to remember roleplaying in the eighties will recall that admitting you played Dungeons and Dragons meant you were in league with the Devil. The funny thing was that none of the coolness that kids into heavy metal had because they were listening the music of the Devil rubbed off on those of us playing the game of the Devil. Roleplayers were evil nerds. It was quite a time and a lot of that stigma still exists today.

Here's a link to a 60 minutes (!) segment on the evil hobby from that time to get a feeling for what it was like and what the world, to varying degrees, thought of it.

60 Minutes on Dungeons Dragons 1985 Part 1

60 Minutes on Dungeons Dragons 1985 Part 2

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Where it All Began Pt. 3

The next contact I had with roleplaying was through a book called What is Dungeons and Dragons?* by John Butterfield and David Honigmann. I think my Great Aunt bought the book because it was the right size and had a dragon on the front with dice coming out of its eyes. The book was just a somewhat dubious attempt to corral some of the cash being made by legitimate publications, however, it did serve a very important purpose later on.

Shortly afterwards a different friend got the newly released red box set of Basic Dungeons and Dragons and while I had photocopies of what you might charitably refer to as "excepts" from the book I didn't have any of the polyhedral dice required to play, and coming from a small town, no way to get them.

Some time later my mother, for reasons I can't recall, took a plane trip to our closest big city and so, obviously, I gave her the task of getting a set of dice for me. Today doing such a thing would be easy, in 1984, however, it was quite a different proposition.

The first obstacle was that there was no such thing as the internet to track down a gaming store. This meant she had go place to place asking where one was and then, sniffing a potential sale, fielding questions about what she was looking for. Have you ever tried to describe a polyhedral dice to someone? The concept is simple enough but even today, these different shaped dice with their weird sides still fascinate people. The saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" definitely applies to them, fortunately I had that picture!

So, armed withWhat is Dungeons and Dragons my mother went off to get my dice, and whatever else she had planned to do. She didn't fail me. A few days later I had my first, what she called "dungeons dice". 25 years later I still have four of them, a love of roleplaying, and my Mother to thank for both.

* As I trawled the internet recently trying to find a better picture than the tiny thumbnail I had of the cover of What is Dungeons and Dragons I discovered a site called with a recent review of this book. Thanks to them I have that larger image as well as a copy of The Shrine of Kolchap I've been trying to replace for years.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Where it All Began Pt. 2

Interestingly my first introduction to a real RPG was not Dungeons and Dragons but Traveller. A fiend of mine's brother had several traveller books and he swore the game was awesome, certainly better than Dungeons and Dragons (whatever that was). I was excited by the idea of the game but after my bad experience with Starship Traveller I was reluctant to venture into space again.

Turns out I was right to be. We spent, what seemed like hours making a characters only for mine to die DURING CHARACTER CREATION just as it looked like we were actually going to play. Space was a cruel mistress and if this was the best Roleplaying had to offer I was sticking with Fighting Fantasy and a date with Zanbar Bone in a little town called Port Blacksand!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Where it All Began Pt. 1

Starting at the start... my introduction to roleplaying came quite by chance care of a "Lucky Books Grab Bag". The Lucky Book Club is, or perhaps was, the New Zealand equivalent of Scholastic Books. Once every few months their thin, cheaply printed, catalog would come around and, if it was your birthday or something, you could get a book or two. If you parents had won the lottery or a magical goose had mysteriously shown up for a few days,then and only then could you get a coveted "Lucky Grab Bag".

The "Lucky Grab Bag" was in hindsight not quite so magical as it contained a "random" selection of books, which were probably under-selling or over-produced titles. In any case, the perception of the 10 year old me was that it was awesome and especially so on the occasion I was lucky enough to get one. Amongst the titles was the book that started it all, The Mystery of Chimney Rock by Edward Packard.

Setting aside my copy of The Star Wars Question and Answer Book about Space I dug into this weird book where you could literally choose your own adventure and it was amazing! I was instantly captivated by being able to move around in the story somewhat on my own terms make my own decisions. I've been hooked on the idea ever since.

From Choose Your Own Adventure titles I moved on to Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston's "Fighting Fantasy" series beginning with "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain". I enjoyed the dice rolling aspect of the combat and the harder edge. I particularly liked "The City of Thieves" and "The Forest of Doom" one that I did not enjoy was "Starship Traveller" and that, as it turned out, was to postpone my entrance into rpg's.