Category Archives: Business of Games

Writing Basics: Revisions

So, you have a finished draft of a game project. You’ve checked that it meets your wordcount requirements (neither too much nor too little off the mark – I try to hit within 5% of the exact wordcount total, and I consider being off by 10%–whether over or under—to be a failure to hit wordcount), the formatting is what your publisher has asked for (so if you used ANY table function of your program, you have replaced it with what the publisher’s style guide calls for), and you’ve hit all the required topics.

Now what? Now, you get ready for revision.

Revisions can have a number of steps for game writing, depending on the project, time, and circumstance, but here are some common types. A project may have all of these, just a few, or none… though try to avoid not even having time for a reread.

The Re-Read

The best way to get a good revision on your own is to put your writing down for a couple of weeks, work on other projects and then, when it’s no longer fresh in your mind, reread it from the beginning. You are likely to catch a few places where the wording got muddled, or you didn’t type exactly what you were thinking. But you may also find some more systemic problems, such as discussing concepts in length before introducing them in brief, or contradicting yourself because ideas evolved as you wrote them (or you wrote two parts of the same section days apart, and misremembered what you said the first time).

This is also a good time to play developer with your own material. Do you see a simpler way to express the same idea? Is a rule system too complex for the value it gives the game? Is an option obviously overpowered, or under-powered, and you can see a way to fix it? Does something you thought was awesome now seem dull? This is a good chance to fix all those issues.

And if you aren’t sure about something? Just flag it for your developer/editor/producer. Leave a comment explaining your thought process and concern, and that you weren’t sure one way or another. Having comments and thoughts from the author can be a huge help when a developer is first tackling a project, and it shows you’re cognizant of potential issues in your work, but trust the people you are working with. While you are at it, put notes in about anything else that might be useful for your developer. A list of resources that need to be mentioned in a OGL section 15. Which bits of continuity are canon (and where you found them), and which are new elements you made up yourself. Anything that’s an Easter Egg (or even clearly inspired by existing IP—homage CAN be fine, but let your publisher know what you are riffing off of, so they can make that decision for themselves).

Playtest

If at all possible get at least SOME playtest in of any gameable elements. An adventure can be easy to do a quick playtest of—grab some friends (with your publisher’s permission to have people you are sharing the unpublished material with, if under NDA or similar restriction) and run through it once. Single stand-alone elements such as spells or feats can be trickier, but having people other than you use them in character builds can show if they are unexpected synergies, or are valued much more or less highly than similar options. Larger elements, such as entire character classes, can take months to properly playtest, but at minimum it can be useful to run a Rules Rumble playtest – have one set of players make characters without access to the new rules, and a second group make characters required to use the new rules, and pit them against each other.

If you find any glaring issues, fix them. If you find potential issues, leave comments for your developer/editor/producer.

Beta Readers

It can be useful to have people you trust take a look at your work to highlight any potential problems they see. Again, if you are under NDA or similar constraint, get your publisher’s permission for this. Sometimes projects with multiple freelancers working on it provide a way for those freelancers to go over each other’s work as it is created, which can be a great resource (but be sure you give back – if someone gives you useful feedback in that kind of environment, read through their stuff too). You don’t have to take a Beta Reader’s opinion over your own of course, but do consider their point of view. If a Beta Reader says something is unclear, for example, then no matter how obvious it is to you, you know it’s unclear to at least SOME other people.

Publisher Feedback

Publisher feedback is extremely important on any project they have the time and energy to give it to you, which is my experience isn’t that often. Ultimately if you don’t work with your publisher on their feedback, you may not get published. But the degree of how important this is varies from ‘crucial” to only “very important.”

Most freelance work written for the tabletop game industry is done Work for Hire, which means once you are paid you have no further rights to the work. You aren’t even considered the creator, for copyright purposes. When I am working on that kind of project, if the publisher gives me feedback, I consider it part of my job to incorporate that feedback, even if I disagree with it.

I ALSO consider it part of my job to point out why I think bad feedback is bad, but in the end if this is something for which I am providing content using someone else’s sandbox, and I have been hired to fill a certain amount of it with the kind of sand they want, I consider my job to be to give the publisher what they want. I often call this kind of work “content provider” rather than “author,” to remind myself of what my end goal is.

Things are slightly different if a publisher is partnering with you to publish something you retain the copyright to. It’s still crucial to consider the publisher’s feedback—one presumes you picked this publisher to be the venue for your work for a reason, but if it’s ultimately your project any feedback should ultimately be your call. (Though, you know, check your contract. Preferably before signing it.)

In Summation

The point of a First Draft is to get it done. The point of a Revision is to get it right. This can vary from tweaking a few things to realizing you have to tear out the heart of what you have written and start over (which can feel a lot like tearing out your own heart). In tabletop RPG design you often don’t have time for more than one revisions (though a developer may be coming along behind you to make another, out of your sight), so try to get as much feedback as you can, then apply what you have learned, make notes…

And move on to the next project. Never finishing revisions is a form of never finishing, and it’s often said “Game designs are never finished, they just escape their designers.”

Don’t be afraid to change things in revision, but also don’t be afraid to leave them alone if you think they’re good.

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Developing to Spec: Part 13d – Know When to Break the Design Rules

One of the general principles of good game development is not to add things to a game’s rules that was explicitly avoided by the core rulebook. For example, even though Weapon Focus gives a +1 or +2 bonus to attacks with one class of weapons in Starfinder, the book specifically didn’t give a better, stacking version of that to soldiers for an even bigger bonus. So, when we adapted Greater Weapon Focus, we avoided adding what the core rulebook was specifically designed to not have.

This is different, in very important ways, than just not adding anything new.

But it’s also a general principle, not a hard-and-fast law. Sometimes, you know better than the people who created the core rulebook. Sometimes real-world play experience shows people want unbalanced options because they’re fun. And sometimes, you are creating something everyone knows is unofficial, so you are in an environment with different needs and responsibilities.

Starfinder clearly doesn’t want to allow people to transfer Resolve Points, or duck the drawbacks of their class features. But maybe we DO want to allow those things, at least in the context of this product, which is most likely to appeal to players who want things the PF core rulebook allows for, and Starfinder doesn’t.

And that leads to today’s feat conversions.

Like Extra Lay On Hands from yesterday, Extra Mercy functions in PF by giving extra uses of an ability that doesn’t exist in Starfinder. So how can we make this feat’s name, which suggests you are already being merciful, feel like the user is *extra* merciful?

EXTRA MERCY
Your healing touch can restore the inner resolve of your patient, at a heavy cost to you.
Prerequisites: Healing touch class feature.
Benefit: When you use the healing touch class feature, you can also expend 1 Resolve Point to grant one target of your healing touch 1 Resolve Point. Under no circumstances can the target exceed its normally maximum number of Resolve Points.

Extra Performance gives us exactly the same problem—there’s nothing you can run out of called a “performance” in Starfinder. So, what CAN we add some benefit to that makes linguistic and thematic sense? Well, envoys have abilities that could be considered performance-related, and they have a kind of ability that takes away one of their normal benefits, the expertise die. There’s nothing in Starfinder that let’s you double-dip (getting both the expertise die and a talent benefit that normally requires you to forgo it), but as a limited, flexible resource you can gain with a feat, that should be balanced (if adding a bit more complexity than Starfinder normally engages in).

EXTRA PERFORMANCE
You can call upon a deep well of performative and diplomatic skill to pull off complex tasks requiring great expertise.
Prerequisites: Expertise talent class feature.
Benefit: Twice per day you can use an expertise talent that normally requires you to forgo adding the benefit of your expertise die to a skill check, and still add the expertise die as normal for that skill.

Both of these re-conceptualize the function of the original feats into a different, though thematically-related, benefit. They also do things Starfinder’s existing rule options don’t allow for, but in a controlled way that makes sense, and shouldn’t break any aspect of the game.

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Developing to Spec: Part 13c – Feats that are SO EXTRA

This is the third section of Part Thirteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

In our ongoing alphabetical march we have run into another set of feats-of-a-set-type, though in this case they’re all still just general feats. These are the feats that grant “Extra” uses of various PF class features with limited charges per day. Since almost none of those powers even exist in Starfinder, somehow creating a set of feats with the same names as those designed to just boost uses/day is going to take some creativity. (These are another great examples of feat it would be worth checking if you producer REALLY wanted to create Starfinder versions of, but this project considers that question settled, so on we go).

For example, Extra Ki has all sorts of problems. First, there is are no ki points or ki powers in Starfinder. Second, those things that are similar to ki powers have been replaced by a universal Resolve Point mechanic, which already has Extra Resolve that gives you more Resolve Points, and cannot be taken more than once.

And, in that second fact we perhaps find a crack of design space. It’s likely not something the designers of Starfinder intended (aside—nope, it sure isn’t), but it should work well enough.

EXTRA KI
You have a focused pool of resolve to draw of when accessing your trained abilities.
Prerequisites: Extra Resolve, character level 5th.
Benefit: You gain a special pool of 2 bonus Resolve Points, These can only be used to fuel class features you possess that require Resolve Point expenditure.

That solution doesn’t work with Extra Lay on Hands, of course, because there’s no similar broad category of abilities we could reference. But there IS the mystic healing touch class feature, which is close descriptively, so:

EXTRA LAY ON HANDS
You can sooth with a touch more often than most mystics.
Prerequisites: Healing touch class feature.
Benefit: You gain three additional uses of healing touch per day. In a single ten minute period, you can heal multiple adjacent creatures (expending one use of the ability for each target), though you cannot use this to apply multiple uses to a single target.

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Developing to Spec: Part 13b – Re-conceptualizing

This is the second section of Part Thirteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

As the developer for this project, it’s getting clearer and clearer that a lot of feats didn’t get translated from PF to Starfinder because they are connected to game mechanics that have been abandoned or radically changed. (I already knew this, as it happens, and I wrote the first draft of the Starfinder Core Rulebook feats chapter, and remember how many things just weren’t relevant. But for purposes of this series of articles, let’s assume we’re discovering this for the first time.) That means we need to lean on re-conceptualizing those feats to use new mechanics, and possibly to have them create entirely new effects which just match the name of the original feats (and, hopefully, will appeal to the same kind of player).

The same issue comes up with Eschew Materials, since Starfinder doesn’t require material components for spellcasting unless they have a cost. We found a way to use Still Spell and Silent Spell despite Starfinder spellcasting not requiring words or gestures by re-conceptualizing what those feats meant. We didn’t tackle Eschew Materials at the same time, because it’s not officially a metamagic feat, but can we do the same thing to come up with a solution here? And, since it’s NOT a metamagic feat, can we step away from spells entirely to give it a broader utility?

ESCHEW MATERIALS
You have learned to call forth the magic essence of various substances, passing their benefits homeopathically through your form, rather than needing to apply them in traditional ways.
Benefit: As a standard action, you can apply any serum or medicinal in your possession (that you could normally draw as a move action or less) to yourself or an adjacent creature with a touch. The serum or medicinal is expended normally, you just don’t have to have it in hand to use it.

That brings us to Extra Channel, which isn’t too bad – we have a class that has a healing channel, and two extra uses seems reasonable, though since Starfinder only has one “extra” feat (Extra Resolve), and it can’t be taken more than once, we should probably not allow this to be taken more than once either.

EXTRA CHANNEL
You can channel healing energy more easily than most healer mystics.
Prerequisites: Healing channel class feature.
Benefits: Twice per day you can use the healing channel ability without expending Resolve Points to do so.

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Developing to Spec: Part 13 – Keeping It Simple

This is the first section of Part Thirteen of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

The deeper we get into this project, the greater the temptation is going to become to create complex, weighty new rules to help us have enough design space to make a slew of new feats covering common conceptual tropes. But as much as possible, we need to keep things simple.

For example, while channeling feats are going to keep being something we have to adapt, Elemental Channel can be extra easy and simple, since we can just emulate the existing Starfinder feat Harm Undead.

ELEMENTAL CHANNEL
You can use your healing channel to harm elementals.
Prerequisites: Healing channel connection power, mystic level 1st.
Benefit: When you use your healing channel, you can expend a mystic spell slot of the highest level you can cast to also deal damage equal to the amount you heal to all elemental foes (including all creatures of the elemental type) in the area. The elementals can attempt a Will save for half damage, at your usual connection power DC.

Sometimes the problem is deeper, but that doesn’t mean the solution has to be complex. The reason Endurance doesn’t exist in Starfinder is that all of the benefits the PF version grant have been rolled into Toughness (which also does pretty much what the PF toughness feat does). That means if we want to have something that feels like Endurance, we need to come up with brand-new mechanics. There are lots of places we could go with this, but since I know that afflictions in Starfinder turn out to be pretty severe, that’s the first place I go looking for options. And, luckily, there’s a really easy way to adjust a character’s level of enduring such things.

ENDURANCE
Harsh afflictions do not bring you down quickly or easily.
Benefit: You treat the onset and frequency of afflictions that have them as being twice as long as normal.

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Writing Basics Minis: Avoiding Word Derailment

This one is super-short, but for me super-useful.

Don’t let your search for the perfect word derail your writing flow.

That’s not to say it’s not worth popping a thesaurus open (or using the ‘related word’ function of onlook.com, a site Starfinder Lead Designer Joe Pasini turned me on to) to see if you can find it quickly and easily.

But before it disrupts your produtive writing time, put it on the back burner and move on. I personally just put a description of the word I want in brackets and highlight in bright yellow, so I know when I go back through the piece later that it needs to be replaced.

A chunk of the time, describing the word I want to put in the brackets causes me to think of it. And often, when i run back into the section on a reread, at least SOME good word to use leaps to mind. But the important thing is, when I am “in the zone,” getting wordcount quickly and feeling the concepts flow easily, I am not wasting time trying to polish a single term during rough-draft-creation time.

I can’t tell you how long to spend on it before giving up. Only you can know your muse’s endurance. This is a trick for making sure you don’t spend an hour on one word when you need that time to write 500. But be aware you don’t have to get any of it perfectly right the first time through.

This applies to anything, really. Can’t think of the right word? Not sure what to make the 4th level bonus spell? Need a riddle to add some mental challenge to an adventure?

If it’s holding you up, and you KNOW what comes next already, skip it, mark it, come back to it.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12d – Designing to Concept

This is the fourth section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

Sometimes when developing existing rules, you find you like a concept that an option of encounter is built around, but the core mechanics don’t work. When that happens you often “design to concept,” looking not at the mechanics you have been given, but the cool idea behind them that needs to work differently. Everything but that core, good idea gets thrown away. That same idea can apply to adapting from one game system to another–sometimes you have to throw out everything but the concept (and in this case, the name), and start over from there.

For example, Dodge is a lot like Dazzling Display in that it would work exactly as written in Starfinder, which makes us have to ask why it isn’t. The answer is clearly a case of combat math, so like Greater Weapon Focus we need to find some other solution to creating a feat that serves some defensive function, has a solid game use, and feels like dodging, but doesn’t break the game assumed range of numbers.

DODGE
Your training and reflexes allow you to avoid a wide range of threats when specifically avoiding opponents’ attacks.
Benefit: When you take the fight defensively or total defense action, you apply the bonus that action gives you to AC to your saving throws as well.

Like so many PF feats, Double Slice is designed to work with mechanics that just don’t exist in Starfinder. The name of it does lead to consider some interesting options, hwoever, and I know from my time talking to Starifner players that there is a strong desire for some kind of mechanical beneit for wielding multiple melee weapons. So, in a two-birds-with-one-stone way:

DOUBLE SLICE
You are adept at using multiple weapons to strike foes around you when they drop their guard.
Benefit: If you are wielding two or more melee weapons that are not archaic or unwieldy (including natural or unarmed attacks, if they meet those requirements), and at least is an operative weapon, you an take one additional attack of opportunity each round. Each attack of opportunity must be provoked by a different event, and must be made with a different melee weapon.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12c – Deft and Disruptive

This is the third section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

We’ve made it to Deft Hands, which has all the issues of Athletic and Acrobatic and similar feats. Luckily we can again use the same solution—look through the relevant feats and seek some design space open for new options.

DEFT HANDS
You have exceptional manual dexterity.
Benefit: You can perform the hide object, palm object, and pick pocket tasks of Sleight of Hand as move actions.

Disruptive is interesting, because it makes a spellcaster less likely to cast defensively… and defensive casting isn’t a thing in Starfinder. But if we just take the feat to be something that makes spellcasters near you less effective, we can build something interesting that does that without trying to replicate the exact game mechanics.

DISRUPTIVE (Combat)
Your training makes it difficult for enemy spellcasters to safely cast spells near you.
Prerequisites: Base attack bonus +6.
Benefit: Creatures within the area you can threaten with melee attacks take a -1 penalty to attack rolls with spells, and the save DCs of their spells are reduced by 1. If you hit such a creature with a melee attack these penalties are doubled as long as is it in your threatened area until the beginning of your next turn.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12b – Adapting Concepts

This is the second section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

We’ve reached Defensive Combat Training, which has the same kind of problems with game math and combat options as Greater Weapon Focus and, like it, there’s a way to preserve the concept by having it apply to avoiding penalties rather than gaining bonuses.

DEFENSIVE COMBAT TRAINING (Combat)
You have trained to keep your defenses us against tricky maneuvers, even under the worst circumstances
Benefit: You do not apply the penalty from the entangled, exhausted, fatigued, flat-footed, frightened, grappled, off-kilter, panicked, or prone conditions to your AC against combat maneuvers.

Deflect Arrows clearly got superseded by Deflect Projectiles, but we can possibly use the fact that the Starfinder version has extremely broad utility, late-level prerequisites, and a Resolve Point cost to make a much narrower, but less costly version just for “arrows.”

DEFLECT ARROWS (Combat)
You have trained in an archaic art designed to avoid archaic missile weapons.
Benefit: Once per round when an archaic ranged weapon that does kinetic damage would hit you, you may choose to have it miss you.

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Developing to Spec: Part 12 – Deadly and Deceitful

This is the first section of Part Twelve of a series of articles looking at creating a set of Starfinder feats under specific constraints.  You can read along as we convert every feat in the PF core rulebook to Starfinder (and  share my thoughts on that process, as a developer and writer)— or you can just look at the finished feats (as they are written, and I have time over the holidays to update the list) here.

So now that we’ve done Greater Weapon Focus and Shatter Defenses, we can look at Deadly Stroke. The PF version is specifically designed to give you a kind of quick coup de grace option, but that doesn’t hold up well to Starfinder’s combat math. On the other hand, Starfinder does assume that if you have an attack bonus to high you can hit even while taking the penalty for multiattacking, you can do more damage (or significantly inconvenience them with a combat maneuver). There might be ways to allow that high-attack-bonus character to just access more damage directly if they pay a feat to do so.

And since Starfinder feats tend to be much more prerequisite-lite than PF, and the base attack bonus restricts this to higher-level characters anyway, we can do away with some of the prerequisites that aren’t directly related to the way this feat works.

DEADLY STROKE
With a well-placed strike, you can bring a swift and painful end to most foes.
Prerequisites: Greater Weapon Focus, Weapon Focus, and proficiency with the selected weapon, base attack bonus +11.
Benefit: When using a weapon you have Greater Weapon Focus with to make a single attack as a standard action, if your attack roll exceeds the target’s AC by 8 or more, the attack is a critical hit.

And that brings us to Deceitful, which has all the issues of Athletic and Acrobatic and similar feats. Luckily we can use the same solution—look through the relevant feats and seek some design space open for new options.

DECEITFUL
The art of deception is second-nature to you.
Benefit: You can use the diversion task of the Bluff skill to allow another character to use the distraction to attempt Stealth or to palm an object. If your skill check is 20 or higher, you can pass a secret message to the character you are making the distraction for informing them of your intention in creating the distraction, and no one who is distracted can attempt a Sense Motive check to learn the gist of that message.
Additionally, the DC of a Perception check to penetrate a successful disguise of yours is increased by +2.

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