Category Archives: Game Design

Starfinder Writing Basics: Terms

Quick Starfinder developer note.

In Starfinder? The names of classes, archetypes, bonus types, magic items, class features, hybrid items, technological items, equipment, the word level, and spells ARE NOT CAPITALIZED the way feats, skills, and HP/RP/SP are.

It’s not “The Gramarthurge is an Archetype exclusive to Technomancers that gains Word Abuse at 2nd Level, which boosts the utility of Spell Cache.”

It’s “The gramarthurge is an archetype exclusive to technomancers that gains word abuse at 2nd level, which boosts the utility of spell cache.”

But it’s still “The gramarthurge gains Toughness as a bonus feat, and a +2 insight bonus to Diplomacy when speaking or writing.”

As for why?

Well for every game, that’s a house style call, generally lead up by the editors and publisher, and possibly creative directors and designers.

It’s a process that involves a lot of smart people with a lot of opinions, and I am far from the most important (or most informed) member of that group, but as general guidelines:

If a detect magic spell will cause it to ping, it get italicized. So spells, magic items, hybrid items. This makes it easy for a GM to know what is magic without always looking it up.

If the term has been capitalized in every version of the d20 rules in our ancestry for 19 years (skills, feats), it gets capitalized. The original logic (IIRC) was that if we didn’t capitalize skill and feat names, they would get lost as game terms, and they were each their own highest-level header independent of any other game element. For example, you don’t capitalize class features because they are elements of a larger sub-category, the class. But each feat is all of that feat, and same with skills.

If the abbreviation of a multi-word game term is capitalized so it won’t be lost, and uses the first letters of the game term, the full term is capitalized. So HP leads to both Hit Poitns and Hull Points, but XP does not lead to experience points being capitalized. This isn’t true for all d20 games.

Otherwise normal rules of grammar apply, so elebrian isn’t capitalized for the same reason human isn’t, but Deoxian (as in a resident of the undead world of Deox) would be for the same reason American is.

And you can always check a game’s glossary and/or index, and always ask your editor/developer if they have a style guide.

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Writing Basics: What IS the Barrier to Entry?

When people ask how to break into, or expand their visibility within, the RPG industry I often mention working for small pdf publishers as an option, or becoming one to self-publish your work. But, how realistic is that latter choice?

I have been deeply involved in small, mostly pdf, mostly third-party RPG game publishing for a decade. Despite looking a lot like the same kind of work as mid-sized companies (to be be fare, many of the same skills and challenged DO apply), being a basically one-man RPG shop is possible, and the barrier to entry can be quite low.

But… how low? How much should you spend on your first RPG release? How little CAN you spend?

Well, let’s look at some actual numbers.

Let’s say I want to release a 10-page RPG supplement for a licensed game, but that some OGL game or something with a separate license. How cheap can I make that?

Well, at a guess, that’ll be 7,500 words of writing. Let’s assume I do all the writing myself.

Then I want it to be edited. I can, possibly, get a friend or family member to edit it for free, but let’s assume I don’t do that. You can find editors for 1 cent/word. That’s my first real expense, and it’s $75.

Then I need a cover, and some interior illustrations. And they have to be things I have the rights to. Stock art is clearly the way to go with this, if we are trying to keep things cheap. I want one big piece for the cover, and five 1/4-page or character illos pieces to have one every 2 pages for the interior. That’s six total pieces of art. There’s a wide, wide range of stock art available, including a lot from Rogue Genius Games. I’ll likely spend more on the cover art than the interiors (although you could also go the brilliant route Raging Swam Press did, and create a style that uses no art on its covers. That’s a savings now AND in the future.) Let’s say you average $5 per illo for stock art, so that’s $30.

You need someone to do graphic design, and layout.  Ideally you’d pay a graphic designer to design the look for your line and create templates, which your layout artist would then use to put all your text and illustrations in place to make a final book. But you’re trying to go cheap. So you find someone to do a basic graphic design and layout in one go, and pay $2/page. That’s another $20.

It’s smart to get a lawyer to go over licenses with you, get yourself an LLC and a company bank account, and lots of other steps… but you don’t HAVE to.

It’s also smart to pay people what they are worth, and you often get what you pay for. I’m not claiming the prices I list here are standard, or reasonable. I’m just saying you can find professional people to do the listed work for the listed price.

Okay, so you are now out $125. You don’t want to pay for print runs or advertising, so you put up a pdf on DriveThruRPG, and the Open Gaming Store, and maybe Paizo, and maybe Warehouse23. What makes sense depends on the product. Those all have different terms, but let’s assume you’re going to get 65% of cover price, on average.

How many copies will you sell? Who knows. Let’s assume you’ll do 50 copies in the first 90 days. So you need to make $125 over 50 copies, or $2.50 per sale to break even. Since you only get 65% of each sale (the rest going to your online distributor), you set the sale price at $3.95 for the pdf.

If you sell your 50 copies, you’ll bring in $128.37… a $3.37 profit!

Of course, taxes will take some of that.

And if you had paid even 3 cents/word for the writing, you’d have another $225 in costs, which would require you to sell nearly another 100 copies to break even.

And if that writing is going to earn as much as $15/hour at 3 cents/word, the 7,500 words need to take no more than 15 hours–a writing rate (including outlines, formatting, brainstorming, approvals, revisions, and so forth) of at least 500 words an hour.

But if you at LEAST break even, you can learn and improve, and make more sales (and produce the material faster) on your NEXT pdf…

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Horrifically Overpowered Star-Feats

Very soon, RGG will be releasing Starfarer’s Codex: Horrifically Overpowered Feats.

And it’s my fault.

This is, obviously, a new entry in the Horrifically Overpowered line of game supplements, bringing the world of OP to Starfinder-compatible games. And while it WILL update many of the old Pf-edition OP feats, that’s not all the book has.

Oh heavens no.

It is SO much worse than that.

“How bad could it be?” you ask. Pretty bad. game-breakingly bad. You should never allow ANY of these into your campaign.

Seriously, let me show you.

Here’s just a few examples of Horrifically Overpowered Star Feats.

Ain’t Got Time To Bleed (Horrifically Overpowered)
You can rest when you’re dead.
Benefit: As a full action, you can use any option available to you that normally takes 10 minutes. You are subject to all the other restrictions of the action (it’s fast not free, get real).

Ancestral Plasma Canon
You have an item your family has carried into star battle with star demons for star centuries.
Benefit: Select one category of item that is not consumed when it is used, such as a small arm, heavy weapon, light armor, an armor upgrade, or a technological, hybrid, or magic item. Each time you gain a new character level, this item is upgraded to any item of the same category you wish with an item level no greater than your character level +2. If the item is lost or destroyed, it or a replacement returns to you no later than the next time you gain a character level.

Resolved (Horrifically Overpowered)
No one is more resolved than you are.
Benefit: The Resolve Point cost of any ability or option that requires Resolve Points is one lower than normal for you. If that makes the Resolve Point cost 0 or less (yeah, or less—if you are allowing THIS option, who KNOWS what you’ve allowed into your campaign?!) you can still only use the ability if you have at least 1 Resolve Point remaining in your Resolve Pool.

If you want to make me stop writing such ridiculous pandering products which appeal only to power gamers and bring shame on my reputation as a professional, feel free to join my Patreon, in the hopes the money will distract me and put an end to this terrible idea.
Or… I mean back me and tell me to write more. As long as you give me money, I don;t care what you ask me to do.

Pathfinder Template: Boss Monster

A template for 1st ed Pathfinder, to turn a foe into a Boss Monster.

CR: +2
Initiative: If a boss’s total initiative is less than 15, it changes to 15. If that would cause it to go last in the first full round of combat, it’s initiative improves until it goes next-to-last.
HP: Double total HP
Boss Action: At the end of each round, the Boss gains an additional full-round action. It cannot use this to run, charge, or double-move if it has already done any of those things this turn.
Boss Bash: As a full-round action, a Boss can move itself up to its move and damage all creatures adjacent to it at any point as if it had hit them with a melee attack. If the boss had some kind of limitations on its movement they do not affect this action, but are still in place after it takes this action. This movement does not provoke an attack of opportunity. Alternatively, it can expend a spell or spell-like ability to damage these creatures equal to  1d6 per spell level +1d6 per 2 caster levels.
This ability looks and is described differently based on what the boss is, and does damage of a type the boss can normally do.
Boss Options: Anything other than boss bash that the boss can do a limited number of times per day, or per minute, or per round, it can do twice as often.
Boss Resilience: If a failed saving throw would normally cause a boss to be helpless, unconscious, dead, or paralyzed, and the boss still has the boss action ability, the failed saving throw instead just strips the boss of its boss action for 1d4+6 rounds.
Treasure: Give double treasure.

There you go! All the boss’s numbers and abilities are in the range PCs can deal with, but it’s twice as tough and dangerous, and harder to pin down or isolate!

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Updated List of Very Fantasy Words

The most recent update to the Revised, Partial List of Very Fantasy Words can be found here!

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Writing Basics: Index Page

The “Writing Basics” line of articles is my effort to codify some things that are fairly fundamental to writing in the tabletop RPG industry, but which aren’t generally taught in schools or discussed  much in how-to forums and convention panels. These are things I’ve mostly had to pick up over the years, which I would have loved a short primer on when I was getting started (or, in some cases, even ten years into my RPG writing career).

As this line of articles grows, some folks have asked me if I will cover a topic that… I already covered!

Right. Social media is NOT a steady, reliable, or easily searched information distribution mechanism.

So, to help anyone who might wonder what topics I have already cover, here’s the Writing Basics Index Page, with a short description and link to each article in this series. I’ll update this page as I keep writing these.

From Nothing to a Game Book: What is the process that leads from nothing to a company publishing a finished book? This is my best stab at a high-level, rough overview. It is, at best, a sketch that covers a lot of different ways this happens, but there are companies that add steps, or skip steps, or do things in a totally different order.

Paginations and Wordcounts: In this installment of Writing Basics I take a brief look at two related subjects that freelance writers often don’t need to worry too much about, but that are extremely important to the RPG industry overall—paginations and wordcounts.

Introductions: This covers the topic of “Introductions,” by which I specifically mean the text at the beginning of a product, book, chapter, or section (likely with its own header—these things are often interconnected), that explains what’s actually in that section of text. Ideally, it’s interesting to read, gives the reader some idea of what information is coming and why, and gives some context how that material connects to other books/products/chapters/ or sections of text.

Headers: Headers are the big titles of sections of books that tell you (roughly) what content is in that section. If you want a quick overview of what headers are, how to mark them in a manuscript (which, I should note, is actually “however your publisher tells you to,” though the [H1]- and [H2]-style designations are pretty common if not universal), go check out Rogue Genius Games’ “RGG Writer Guidelines,” which discuss headers and how to let your editor and layout artist know where they should in your manuscript.

Final Checks for RPG Manuscripts: In this entry, I going to talk about the all the work you should be doing after you are done writing, but before you turn over the manuscript. These last checks are often the difference between a polished manuscript that gets people’s attention, and a barely-useful mess that requires significant work from your developer/editor/producer/publisher to bring up to their standards.

Check the Rights to Anything You Use in Publishing: This is SUPER basic, but I see smart people get it wrong all the time.

Impostor Syndrome: A lot of creatives have it. I have it. Here are some of my coping mechanisms, in case any of that is useful to someone else (and, you know, why would it be given that I clearly have no idea what I am talking about).

 

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Writing Basics: Paginations and Wordcounts

In this installment of Writing Basics I’ll take a brief look at two related subjects that freelance writers often don’t need to worry too much about, but that are extremely important to the RPG industry overall—paginations and wordcounts.

These are good examples of the kinds of topics I never got much training about in school, and had to pick up as I went through my career. While early on I didn’t ever need to work with these much, the time came when I was trusted enough to begin to get jobs that DID require me to make calculations based on these elements, and I was woefully under-prepared for it. Luckily I managed to find some people willing to explain the core skills to me before I messed anything up too badly, but it would have been useful (to me, and my developers and editors) if I’d understood how these tools are used, and connected, long before I had to be able to create them myself.

In concept a wordcount is extremely simple—it’s the number of words a project needs to fill. There used to be lots of ways commonly used to calculate the word count of work you’ve finished, but nowadays most people just use the wordcount in their word processor program of choice. That’s fine… as far as it goes. I’ll note that since the industry standard in my experience is Office Word, you want to make sure your program of choice calculates a file’s word count in roughly the same was Word does, so if you developer asks for 1,500 words, your computer agrees with their computer on how close you are to hitting that.

Calculating what wordcounts should be in advance is more complicated, and we’ll get to that after we briefly discuss paginations.

A pagination is a document that lays out the specific pages of a book. It is used to determine what content goes on what page. The most common form I am used to is usually an Excel file or similar document that actually has a cell for each page, in which you list what’s on that page. Let’s do a super simple example, for an 8-page book on halfling war baking, as a table.

Title Page

 

 

Page 1

Credits

Table of Contents

Page 2

Introduction

½ page art

 

Page 3

Halfling War Baking History

 

Page 4

War Baker Archetype

¼ page art

Page 5

Equipment: Battle Muffins

¼ page art

Page 6

Glossary

Index

Appendix 1

Page 7

½ page ad

OGL

 

Page 8

 

Page 1 is the first page of the book separate from the cover, and is therefore a right-hand page. That’s why there is a blank entry to the left of it—when I open this 8-page book, the first thing I’ll see (after endpaper, which doesn’t count for our purposes but is sometimes printed on and would be listed as “front inside cover” in that case) is the inside of the front cover on the left, and the titles page on the right.

After that everything is 2-page “spreads.” Pages 2 and 3 will open with 2 on the left and 3 on the right. That means by looking at my pagination, I know that when reading the book you can see those two pages at the same time. This is extremely useful when determining where art goes—you don’t need art on every page. You don’t even need art on every 2-page spread. But you do want art fairly evenly distributed throughout an RPG book, or it becomes a dreaded “wall of text.”

Now obviously you don’t need a table of contents AND a glossary AND an index AND an appendix in an 8-page product. But when planning a physical book, you need to know how many pages your final product will be, and things like this take up space, and often can’t be written until so late in the process there’s no way to just flow them into a layout program and see how much room they eat up. By creating a pagination, you can leave room for these before they are written. Of course that means you need to know how much room you need for them, and that’s often a guessing game based on experience. But at least with a pagination, you have a chance to allot space for these things.

Now that we have a basic pagination, we can look at word count. While this is also a bit of a guessing game, there are factors we can depend on to get much closer than if we just use some generic round number. (That said, I use 22,000 words per 32 8.5×11 page of a 32-page or larger book when I can’t do a pagination for some reason, and while it’s not perfect, it’s often close enough for back-of-napkin calculations).

One of the things you need for an accurate wordcount is a finalized layout style. This is one of the reasons freelancers often don’t have to worry about figuring out their own wordcount—they would have to work with the layout artist to know the book’s fonts, styles, headers, and so on. But once you know how words are going fit onto a page, you can just count the words in 20 or so pages using those layout parameters (with no art or tables), and divide by 20, and that’s your rough per-page wordcount. Let’s say a page of nothing but normal words turns out to be 900 words per page for your graphic design. That means an 8-page book would be 7200 words, right?

Well, no.

Again, go to our pagination. We know the title page is just going to be the title of the book. The credits and table of contents are going to take up some words, but those aren’t part of the wordcount we need a freelancer to provide. Same with the glossary, index, and appendix—we need to remember those need to be done, but they aren’t the same as the halfling war baker material. The OGL is a bunch of words, and it’s super-important the writer work with us to make it accurate, but that’s not part of a project’s normal wordcount either.

The actual meat of this book is pages 3, 4, 5, and 6. That would mean a wordcount of 3600… except we already know there’s going to be art on those pages. A half page of art will reduce a page’s wordcount by, well, half… approximately. (This is all just an effort to get the best approximations we can—someday I may get into developing to fit, copyfit, layout to fit, and so on.) So with one ½-page piece of art and two ¼-page pieces of art, I lose a whole page worth of wordcount.

That means if I want to assign this to a freelancer to write, or I want to have a good idea how long it’ll take me to write, the core part of this book is 2700 words. Specifically, the introduction is 450 words, the history is 900, the archetype is 450 (and that ½ page art had better be a visual of that archetype), and the battle muffins take up 675.

There are also lots of other problems a pagination can help you avoid. Let’s say, for example, that my freelancer comes back to me and says they want to take 150 words from the introduction, 150 from the history and 150 from the muffins, to add 450 words on dwarven war baking. That’s easy in a word-processor, but with the pagination I can see if I think I’d have any place to put that. Now I could just have the introduction end a paragraph before the bottom of that page, then begin the history, and have a tiny bit of it on page 3, and have it run most of the way (but not all the way) through page 4… but everything is becoming a mess.

There are good reasons a lot of publishers won’t let you do this. That’s outside the scope of this article, but you can see how knowing what goes on each page helps plan out any changes that get proposed as the writing progresses.

It’s also useful for placing art, ordering art if you need to do that before the text is done, keeping track of tasks like creating tables of content, and so on.

And, hopefully, it helps show why developers and editors love writers who can get within 2-3% of their exact wordcount. If I ask someone for 1500 words on war muffins, giving me 1800 words isn’t really doing me any favors. In fact, it makes work for me. That’s often less work than if someone only gives me 1350 words out of 1500, but I am still happier if I get 1475 to 1550.

With things designed only for a web blog post or an e-book, these hard wordcounts are often much less important. But paginations and the wordcounts they generate remain common tools of the industry, and even if you aren’t working with them yet it’s useful to know how they function.

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Starfinder Archetype: Xorarcan Centurion

The proud warrior species of the Xorarcan, and rules for using them as a player character species, were introduced here. While all Xorarcans are resilient, and those raised in the native tradition of Xorarcan warriors are all feared in battle, the legend of the unstoppable Xorarcan champions largely comes from encounters with their elite centurions.

Xorarcan centurions train to harden body and mind, and hone themselves to battle-ready perfection. They are a tradition that evolved from the shock soldiers of he Overlords, who forced Xorarcans to sacrifice their lives fearlessly to gain even small advantages over the Overlord’s enemies. While those shock troops often died before becoming veterans, over generations of endless combat, and some horrific experimentation by the Overlords themselves, the surviving Xorarcans learned to survive even nearly-impossible battlefield conditions. With the Overlord’s empire collapsed, the Xorarcans take pride in reclaiming this brutal period in their history, and applying the lessons learned through endless war for cruel masters to achieve their own goals.

A Xorarcan centurion expects to be the point of the spear, the first into the breach and the last off the battlefield. They train not for a single method of combat, but to be prepared for any adversity, and to seek out foe’s weaknesses and maximize allies’ strengths.

Xorarcan Centurion (Archetype)

You have spent your life training to be the ultimate combatant. Much of that training is pure skill and martial technique, but some is also calling upon the changes wrought to your lineage by the Overlords when they used Xorarcans as shock troopers and cannon fodder. While your hate for the long-lost Overlords is as great as any native of Xorarca, you have reclaimed some of the horrors they inflicted upon your ancestors to better serve those you hold dear.

Only members of the Xorarcan species, or characters with the Xorarcan Warrior theme, can take the Xorarcan Centurion archetype.

XororcanFemale-color-01

Centurion Traits: At levels 2, 4, 6, 9, 12, and 18, a Xorarcan centurion may choose to take a centurion trait as an alternate class feature (using the normal rules for archetypes), or may instead gain the normal class feature for their class and level. Once this choice is made at each level, it cannot be changed. Each centurion trait may be selected only once unless it states otherwise.

Battle Meditation (Ex): You have learned the ancient Xorarcan techniques of mind over body, and can force your physical form to obey your will. At the beginning of your turn you have a 50% chance of ending any bleed effect you are suffering. Additionally, you can  imbibe one serum or medicinal (or poison, if you wish), and have the effects delayed as your metabolism holds off any changes wrought by the material. As a move action, you can have the serum, medicinal, or poison take its normal effect on you. Once you use this ability in this way, you cannot do so again for 24 hours.

Combat Training: You gain one bonus combat feat. You must meet its prerequisites normally. You may take this alternate class feature more than once. Each time, you must select a different bonus combat feat.

Crusader’s Blade (Su): Your ancestors were exposed to eldritch energies as part of the Overlord’s efforts to turn them into better shock troops. You have learned to access those energies to melee weapons you use. You may cause any melee weapon you attack with to have the block, bright, and penetrating special weapon properties.

Dimensional Blade (Ex): Your ancestors were exposed to strange dimensional energies as part of the Overlord’s efforts to turn them into better shock troops. You have learned to access those energies to empower attacks you make. Your melee attacks gain the force descriptor. The first ranged attack you make each round also gains the force descriptor. This does not change the AC your attack targets or its damage type (if any), but does generally allow you to affect incorporeal targets normally.

Flight Pack (Ex): You have recovered an ancient Xorarcan flight pack, and restored it to at least partial function. You can attach it to any suit of armor you wear with 10 minutes of work. This does not take an armor upgrade slot. If you do not have a flight speed, this acts as if you had a 1st level flight spell cast on you, and in zero G you are always considered to be adjacent to an object that allows you to push off it and gain a  +4 bonus to Acrobatics checks made in relation to the Moving in Zero G rules.

If you do have a fly speed, your flight pack also increases your maneuverability by one step. If you already have perfect maneuverability, instead you gain a +10 bonus to your fly speed.

Incorruptible (Ex): you have hardened yourself to resist and throw off all efforts to weaken or debase your body. When you make a successful saving throw against an affliction (curse, disease, or poison), you are cured of that affliction. Any damage already inflicted by the affliction must be restored or fade normally.

Ironclad (Ex): You have learned to leverage the joints, lockouts, and hard plates of armor to your benefit when lifting or carrying items. You treat your Strength at 4 higher for purposes of meeting armor proficiency feat prerequisites, and using heavy. When wearing light armor, your carrying capacity is calculated as if your Strength was 2 higher. When wearing heavy armor, your carrying capacity is calculated as if your Strength was 4 higher and you treat your Strength as being 4 higher when determining your effective Strength for wielding heavy weapons.

Martial Prowess (Ex): You have mastered several Xorarcan fighting techniques. Your melee attacks have the disarm and trip special weapon properties. They also have the staggered critical hit effect. If they already have a critical hit effect, when you score a critical hit you may choose between the attack’s normal critical effect, and staggered. If the attack normally has the staggered critical hit effect, you may choose to instead apply the stunned critical hit effect.

Spirit of Xorarca (Su): You can channel the spirit of the harsh world Xorarcans call home to imbue your attacks with lethal forms of energy. Once per day as part of making an attack, you can choose to add the corrosive, flaming, frost, shock, or thundering weapon fusion to one weapon you are attacking with. If you are of chaotic alignment, you may instead add the anarchic fusion. If you are of lawful alignment, you may instead add the axiomatic fusion. If you are good aligned you may instead add the holy fusion. If you are evil aligned, you may instead add the unholy fusion.

This fusion does not count against the weapon’s maximum number of fusions, and can be applied to a weapon of any item level (or your unarmed attacks). The fusion only functions with attacks you make. The fusion lasts until you next regain Stamina Points during a 10-minute rest, though you may suspend it for any attack you do not wish to use it.

If you have already used this ability for the day, you may spend a Resolve Point to use it again. A weapon cannot have more than one fusion from this ability active at a time—if you use it on a weapon that already has such a fusion, the older fusion from this ability ends.

You must have the crusader’s blade, dimensional blade, or martial prowess centurion trait in order to select this centurion trait.

Wallbreaker (Ex): You have trained yourself to overcome the limits of physical exhaustion and trauma, a limit known in Xorarcan philosophy as “the inner wall.” You gain a +4 bonus to Constitution checks to continue running, to avoid damage from a forced march, to hold your breath, and to avoid damage from starvation or thirst. You also gain a +4 bonus to Fortitude saving throws to avoid taking damage from hot or cold environments, to withstand the harmful effects of thick and thin atmospheres, to avoid choking when breathing in heavy smoke, and to avoid fatigue caused by sleep deprivation.

Additionally, as a move action you can recover a number of Stamina Points equal to your character level. Once you have used this ability in this way, you cannot do so again until you have recovered Stamina during a 10-minute rest.

Warrior Spirit (Ex): You can call upon the legendary Xorarcan determination to overcome great adversity. Once per day when you fail at an attack roll or saving throw, as a reaction you may immediately reroll the failed attack or save with a bonus equal to your character level.

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Insectoid Star Knight-color

New Rules Have A Time and Place

For games with lots of rules, it important to consider where those rules are listed in a book, and how they are presented, organized, indexed, cross-referenced. This can often lead to chicken-or-the-egg issues, such as when you want to explain how actions work so people know what you are talking about when you explain how many actions it takes to reload a weapon, but you want to present some examples of things like reloading weapons to give context before you explain how actions work.

The end result is often a compromise, especially in game with multiple people designing, developing, and editing them.

For expansions to a game, like big books of new options for RPGs, it’s important both to stick to the kind of schema you used in the core rulebook (because that’s what people who need expansions to those core rules have already learned is your organizational standard), and to make sure that if you add brand-new things, you do so in the right place, and at the right time.

For example, if skills are broken into a number of different tasks in the core rulebook, chances are each set of tasks is presented with the relevant skill. But if you are introducing new skill tasks (but not new skills) in an expansion book, there won’t be exactly the same kind of section defining skills. But most likely if “Skills” was a chapter before (or otherwise had its own header—see my Writing Basics on headers), you want to recreate that header, with a new introduction nothing these are just new tasks, rather than whole new skills.

While all that seems pretty intuitive, there’s a corollary that I see violated surprisingly often, especially from writers who mostly work in supplements rather than doing a lot of work in core rulebooks. That is: DON’T introduce new expansion rules anyplace OTHER than a logical niche where you’d expect to find all such rules.

Let’s give an example.

Let’s say you have an RPG with a skill called Riding, which covers everything regarding the care and use of mounts. It outlines how you train a mount, how you get a mount to perform better, control a mount in combat, and so on. All fairly reasonable, and intuitively if a player wants to know how to interact with a mount, this seems like a reasonable place to look. (A lot of that could also be in a Combat section, but let’s assume in this case the game organized around skills.)

However, there are no rules for hanging down to one side of your mount to use it as cover against ranged attacks.

Now, a year after the RPG comes out, you release an expansion book. In this book you have a new piece of equipment, the combat saddle. The combat saddle gives you a +4 bonus to skill checks to hang down on one side of your mount to gain cover against ranged attacks. And since there are no rules for that, it gives the rules.

And that’s a problem.

No one knows to look at equipment for new combat uses of the Riding skill. And unless the combat saddle entry is extremely clear, there are going to be people who feel you can ONLY attempt this maneuver with that saddle. (And they’ll have a point, since having a piece of equipment give you a new option you CANNOT attempt without that equipment is one of the cases where putting rules in equipment makes perfect sense).

Sometimes the issue is even worse, because the combat saddle may only give you the new rules in passing, so they don’t really seem like new rules. Like if it says “You gain a +4 bonus to a Difficulty Class 15 Ride check to use your mount as cover,” then it sure SOUNDS like that’s just a quick reference of rules that exist in a full form later… but they don’t.

And goodness knows there are lots of ways for this to happen. Sometimes game writers believe the ability to do something is obvious even though it’s never spelled out. Sometimes they misremember rules, especially if a rule was changed from a previous edition or cut in the development of a book. Sometimes the plan was to reference the new rule in 3 places but there wasn’t room in the book so it got cut back to just 1 reference… in a bad organizational spot.

There’s no one cause of this problem, and no one solution to avoid it. But it’s worth looking at, as a writer, designer, developer, and editor, to avoid adding rules in weird places.

Especially in expansions.

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Writing Basics: From Nothing to a Game Book

I got asked how the process of creating a game book happens, from the very beginning. That’s a great question. It really is one of the writing basics.

It’s also a really complicated question.

This is my best stab at a high-level, rough overview. This is based on being on every side of this process at some point over 20 years, and working for and with and as a lot of companies, but it’s not absolute by any means.

This is, at best, a sketch that covers a lot of different ways this happens, but there are companies that add steps, or skip steps, or do things in a totally different order.

It also varies a lot depending on the project. Here are some general steps, although who does what and when can change even within the same company.

  1. Someone comes up with an idea for a product. This may be a publisher who has looked at sales and resources, or it might be a freelancer who wants to pitch something, or it might be a line developer who is supposed to do X products a year.
  2. Someone matches the idea to a publishing schedule. That may mean you know you need exactly 44,000 words and sketches of 3 maps by January 4th, or it may mean “This can be a 700 word pdf, send it to me whenever you’re done and we’ll lay it out in a week or two.”
    Big publishers are very much more like that first example, while smaller ones are sometimes more flexible.
    If it’s a freelancer pitch, the freelancer and publisher work out terms. If it’s internal, you may need to hunt down someone to write it. Either way, the schedule and budget should be finalized at this point.
  3. An outline is done, so ensure the project will be the right size, hit the right topics, and so on. Often cover art is ordered and art and editing is scheduled at this point.
  4. Once the outline is approved by the people who are paying for the book, and the people writing it agree, the writing is done.
  5. Then drafts are turned in. Depening on the company they may be developed, or just edited, or laid out and then edited. That process varies.
    If art wasn’t arranged for before, it needs to be now.
  6. Layout and editing and development is finished. there may be marketing text that needs to be written, or printing that needs to be arranged for.
  7. Book is released.
  8. Profit! (Hopefully)

And that’s it!
(It is never, ever that simple.)

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