February 17, 2011

Hanging Up

So folks, it seems as the school got rolling, I began focusing elsewhere other than gaming. It's sad for me, because I enjoyed delivering stories, theories, and ideas to you guys and I enjoyed working on my designs.

Unfortunately for us, my degree needs to come first. So for the near future, Thunderstorm Game Design is going silent. All the content will stay, and I will try to build up some new content over time so I can eventually start back up and deliver to you guys.

In the mean time, keep gaming, keep trying your hand at new designs, and have fun!

February 7, 2011

Group Divided

Do you ever get frustrated by a seeming schism in your group? Do some of your players always give you a sideways glance when they declare actions? Do others bottle up during social encounters? Do some get bored after half a round of combat?

If more than one of these applies to your group, it sounds like you have a group of mixed play styles. A mixed group can be a good thing, but more often is just a source of friction and a headache for the GM.

This topic actually cropped up during a twitter conversation on the #rpg hash tag. R.A. Whipple was commenting that his group was playing highly adversarial even though everyone agreed to a politically based campaign. This is a terrible thing to happen, but during the conversation he revealed that he was only having problems with three players, one was helping him, and the other three were newbies without direction.

I suggested something radical: split the group. Find a GM willing to play the adversarial game with the more experienced players; take the newbies and the helpful member of the group and keep running the campaign.

We need to check our groups out regularly to know if they’re healthy as a group. The more in-fighting and bickering that comes of diverse play styles the less fun the group will have. By extension, the less time the group will last.

Some great place to look for the different player styles, and some excellent ways to deal with each, see Robin Laws’ Guide to Good Mastering (If you can find it) or the 4th Edition D&D Dungeon Master’s Guide 1 and 2.

February 4, 2011

Do RPGs Suck?

I read a post today over at Mob United about ‘why RPGs are failing’ and leveled some serious criticisms at the industry in general. Some of the ideas are most definitely founded on real events, with the OSR movement and Pathfinder both retreading old territory, and many of the indie publishers doing things related to one of the above or some other system.

But I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. All things are built on history, and looking at the evolution of dungeon crawlers to produce a new dungeon crawler isn’t a bad thing. Examining social engines to design a better social engine helps in the long term.

In the end, Malcolm levels the criticism that rules systems aren’t going to do anything, that you have to offer something unique that another person couldn’t give. It seems he believes that the fiction, the stories are what players can’t do for themselves.

The problem is that’s false. As human beings, we gravitate to stories, and we create them out of our own lives. No memory is a perfect recollection of events, but those events and people are categorized to make recalls more simple. Malcolm even goes so far as to say why is dungeon crawling any different from the Hero’s Journey. In reality, what is remembered by the players, and is best applied in a game system, are the archetypes that make up things like the monomyth.

My honest conclusion is this:

This decade has seen the release of some very excellent RPGs, things I wish I had the time to play. Those games have been challenging the limits of RPG design space, story space, and even challenging what we call an RPG.

RPGs aren’t necessarily failing, though they are struggling. We, as designers, need to offer unique experiences without the effort demanded of older systems. The stories people want can come from many mediums, and they will choose the easiest or best value. Video games, movies, and books all demand less effort, and less time, than RPGs, and these things tell stories that are just as good as RPGs. We can take advantage of RPGs putting the player as the protagonist in ways none of these other mediums can, and that’s the place we can ply our strength.

What about you, readers, what are the unique strengths of RPGs?

February 2, 2011

Sitting On The Shelf: Game Book Covers

I’ve recently been reading a great book from a novelist, The Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (Everything a Writer Needs to Know.) by J.A. Konrath.  In it, he has an article called “Rusty Nail, Street Dates, Jacket Copy & Book Covers”. Skipping the bits about his book, he makes a simple statement:

“Covers are important. Some booksellers believe they are the single most important element when it comes to book sales. I agree.”

So do I.

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but, as I’m sure we all know, everyone does it. It’s not just books, though, we all judge products based on their packaging. Games are products. Yes, very blunt, ‘duh’ statement, but I want to make sure this concept comes through clear.

When I’m looking for a new game, which admittedly is not as often as I’d like, I don’t go into the store looking for a specific title, designer, or system. Sure, I know my preferences, and I hope I end up with something good, but sometimes the journey is the worthier part.

A good cover absolutely draws my eye. High contrast between title and cover helps it stand out. Professional looking images also helps. I’m sure I’ve passed on some acceptable or even good games over the years because the front cover is a mess. I also know I’ve saved myself a lot of hassle with terrible games following the same rules.

After a book has my attention, I hit the back cover (Or jacket if it’s one of the rare RPGs that has one.). I want to know, quickly:

  • What’s the conceit? What will I be playing?
  • What parts of the game does it consider important?
  • What system does it use?
  • Is it still as professional as the front cover?

The conceit, or theme, is important because in reality it’s what you’re asking your players to believe. If you’re trying to attract sci-fi gamers, discussing elves on the back isn’t likely to help you attract them. If you’re pushing fantasy, or emotional conflict, you need to make sure the players get that before buying the game.

What mechanics are you touting? What’s that thing that sets your game apart from all the other games on the shelf? You need to make a selling point on this, you need to get your prospective player to think they need your book and not have something they could do themselves. (The hobby has a history of do-it-yourselfers, don’t underestimate them.) If it’s your NPC write ups, let them know.  If it’s a new mechanical system, say so.

The system you use is important to state, depending on how you’ve designed it. Is it based on another system? If you have the license, use their marks.  If you don’t, you may want to consider some way to reference the source, but make sure to read up on trademark law so you know what’s fair and what’s trading on their mark. If you made your own system, now’s the time to brand it. Make a logo, make a name, and give people something to ask for if they want your game. It will help down the road if you ever make a new game with the same system.

Now, some of you might feel I’m being trite about professionalism, but it is absolutely critical, even for small timers, to be as professional as they know how to be. Your book should have a uniform appearance; it should be the same quality from cover to cover. This professionalism will let the purchaser know you took your time and aren’t wasting their time. It speaks well of everything you’ve done.

Now, if the inside doesn’t match that cover, you’ve got other problems, and I’ll touch on them in the future, but keeping in mind how people look at books will definitely help you sell some if you ever make it to print.