I have an ear infection, which took me out Thursday and most of Friday. But I also did some AMA things to try to replicate the hanging out experiences of Gen Con for its digital equivalent. A lot of the good questions and answers are buried deep in threads, so I wanted to pull them together for you with simplified versions of the questions as a double-helping of blog post content!
So, just pretend this was all said while hanging out at a bar after-hours of a convention. 🙂
Q: What general advice would you give someone just starting to get into ttRPG game design?
A: Keep creating.
Try new things. Write a new poker game. Do a chess variant. Look for the neat parts of games you dislike.
Listen to and read advice from everyone. Especially people with different backgrounds and life experiences.
Diversity is gold.
Q: Other than writing and creative writing, what skills should I develop to be a better tabletop Roleplaying Game designer?
A: I recommend looking at some game-specific skills. For example, what makes something fun? (And, I absolutely suggest A Theory of Fun for Game Design by Raph Koster). Look at probability and averages and bell curves, with regards to dice. Especially if you use dice-based games.
Then, write some things for yourself. Doing it on a blog or appropriate form can help get some feedback, but the important thing is to write ALL of a few different kinds of game content.
For example, write an entire adventure.
That adventure can be just three encounters, but include the introduction, the instruction to the GM, descriptions of areas and NPC motivations, any monsters, treasure, wrap-up, and so on. For example for Pathfinder 2e: I’d say write a short adventure. Write a spell at each level, and make sure they are divided among the traditions. Write some feats. Write an archetype. Write items at different item levels. The best way to start is to *start*. You’ll learn from there.
If you want to write for a game that has multiple publishers supporting it, reach out to all of them. Find emails. Know what lines of products they publish. Make some pitches. I have some blog articles where I talk about pitches.
Also, follow and read every professional game designer, editor, and publisher you can on social media. Interact with them, politely and positively. Learn from them, both in the knowledge they offer, and how they comport themselves (you can learn from bad examples too).
Don’t just follow and interact with designers that fit one mold either. Learn from everyone. All games systems, all backgrounds, all life experiences. Diversity is golden. I
Q: I am often convinced my ttRPG project has no value. How do I push through and finish it?
A: Sometimes, you just have to push through. I often promise myself I’ll send a thing out to be reviewed and, if the reviewers hate it, never publish it. Self-inflicted negativity is super common among gaming pros. I talk about it at bit in this blog article.
Q: How do your organize your projects?
A: I generally start by working on an outline. Be it a huge book. tiny article, or even a whole game line, an outline of high points and sections is the best way for me to organize my thoughts and keep track of where I am.
I personally just organize my outlines in word, using various headers.
I talk a little about outlines in this blog article, which also links to my related article on headers/
Q: What are the most important elements of game lore and worldbuilding?
Relatability, balanced with originality.
Utility. If a GM or player can’t use it somehow — to describe a region or culture, to inspire adventures, to explain important bakground — then why are you including it?
And a few interesting touchstones of details that are just enough to catch GM and player’s interests.
Q: Is the twenty-sided die the best randomizer for ttRPG rules?
A: There is no ideal. Each randomizer had pros and cons. d20 is simple, easily understood, and has a nice range of results. But 2 is as likely as 20. For some things, bell curves are good. For some, die pools. For some, drawing cards. It depends on what the needs of your game are.
Q: How do I acknowledge the impact previous games have had on my game design?
A: Ignoring the question of specific licenses (such as the OGL) which can complete things– I like forewords, myself. “Many amazing games and designers helped guide me as I worked on Halfling & Haberdasheries. I was particularly inspired by the Kobold Caps “hat trick” mechanics.”
Q: How much should I budget for art in an RPG? How much do artists charge?
A: Most concept artists have rate sheets, so you know in advance what you need to budget for them. Which runs from dozens to hundreds of dollars per piece. Also, talk to them about how they handle sketches and revisions.
Here’s sample rates, for finished art from Jacob Blackmon.
Q: I want to learn to play new RPGs. Other than dropping in on new groups at conventions, what else can I do?
A: When life gets back to normal, you can see if your Local Friendly Gaming Store has new game nights, or a board with people offering to teach games. 🙂
Q: I have a project I want to send to playtesters since I can’t safely playtest in person but… what if the people I send it to steal it?
A: Get signed Non-Disclosure agreements from everyone before sending them the files. And send them to folks you trust. That’s what big companies do. And if you can, get at least one session done digitally so you can watch, it can be super-insightful!
Q: What are good and bad ways for fans to approach you at a convention or event>
A: My favorite way is politely and directly. “Hi, I’m a Big Fan. Would you sign my book for me?”
If I seem to be at liberty, invite me to a meal (Monica is not wrong — I got some quality time with Aaron Allston by offering to buy him lunch), or a drink.
If I am in a group, just stand in it, and if the conversation goes that way, offer to say hi.
My least favorite is barging and demanding. I have had people interrupt whoever I am talking to, or interrupt me, to introduce themselves and gush out a question in the middle of someone else’s answer.
Also, don’t ask me for a lot of time to do you a favor when we first meet. “Hi, will you go over this adventure I printed and have with me and tell me what I need to do to it so you’ll publish it?” is a bad introduction.
Nothing wrong with letting me know you’d like to know if I do such things, but work up to it in stages, and don’t expect it to happen right here and now.
Also if I am on a panel, or heading to another panel, or manning a booth and trying to sell things, don’t plant yourself in front of me and monopolize my tine.
Also, introduce yourself, even if we’ve spoken before. I can be bad at connecting name and face. Let me know the context of why you want to talk to me.”I love your work on Star Wars Saga Edition” tell me you know who I am. “You’re a designer, right? You hire people?” makes me wonder if you are just an opportunist.
Being an opportunist can be fine, to be clear, but even then I recommend using something I just said as a jumping -off point to talk to me, rather than try to jerk the conversation to your topic.
Don’t hug without asking if it’s okay (I am generally fine with it, but I am also a big believer in enthusiastic, ongoing consent).
Also, I personally recommend attaching your name badge with two lanyards, one in each corner, so it is less likely to flip around backwards.
If you found this useful or entertaining, and you’d like to support the creation of more such content, check out my Patreon!
I had a chance to sit down with the awesome folks of Nerdarchy at Gen Con 2018, and talk a bit about tabletop gaming, content creation, and the evolution of RPGs!
(And some thoughts on Starfinder RPG, Paizo Inc., 5th Edition D&D, Green Ronin, crowdsourcing, and more!)
If you enjoy any of the content on this blog, please consider adding a drop of support through my Patreon campaign!
I’ll be at Gen Con! Here’s what my schedule looks light right now.
I come in before noon. I have a few informal things planned, but you might be able to catch me someplace (like the Omni hotel lobby) if you want to.
I’m open most of the day! I might try to Meet and greet hour someplace, if folks express interest (and yes, that would be a good time to have me sign stuff).
I mysterious disappear around 7pm, and likely for the rest of the night.
I’m on several seminar panels!
11am Location: ICC room 212
Introduction to the new Starfinder RPG. Learn the story of the Starfinder universe, what you need to start playing, & where to begin your own character’s legend.
Starfinder Rules Q&A
12pm Location: ICC room 212
An up-close look at the rules of Starfinder, including differences between the Starfinder & Pathfinder rules. Ask questions & discuss the philosophy behind the Starfinder game system.
I’ll be at the ENnie Awards! A great time to meet a lot of your favorite game designers, especially those with products up for awards!
Starfinder Rules Design workshop
10am Location: ICC room 212
Participate in a hands-on workshop focused on rules design in the Starfinder universe & assist in developing original rules from concept to execution.
Designing Starfinder Aliens
12pm Location: ICC room 212
Learn the secrets of monster making & everything that goes into creating a truly terrifying foe.
Secrets of the Pact Worlds
1pm Location: ICC room 212
Come explore the inner region of space in the Starfinder universe. Learn about Absalom Station & discover alien species.
Starfinder – The Digital Tools Horizon
2pm Location: Crowne Plaza Victoria Stn B
What does the digital destiny of Starfinder look like? Leading companies answer your questions & outline their visions of the future!
I mysteriously disappear again in the evening. 😀
Currently wide open!
This is the OTHER day I might schedule an open meet-and-greet, if there was interest.
I fly out in the afternoon, and I suspect I’ll watch the Moon eat the Sun from the airport.