#AprilTTRPGMaker: Questions 25 through 30

Final round of Kira Magrann’s cool challenge for April, the 30-day tabletop role-playing game maker or #AprilTTRPGMaker challenge.

Day 25: Being a tabletop role-playing game designer means…

Argh! This kind of question makes me worry about gate-keeping. I feared at the beginning of this challenge that many people would self-select out because of impostor syndrome.

I think of the definition as flexible and inclusive: if you create games, supplements, scenarios, settings, rules, playbooks, worksheets, and other tools to share with the world, if you listen to constructive critique and try to improve, if you keep polishing your work, then I’d say you are a game designer.

I’m not saying that keeping your meticulous DM campaign notes since the first game of D&D you ran in 1979 and trying to run games in that compendium at every convention makes you a game designer. Based on my training as an engineer, I think that in order to qualify as a designer:

  • You need to articulate what it is you are trying to create.
  • You need to separate the product of your work from your own identity, enough to listen to reasonable criticism.
  • You need to want to improve the product of your work even if the improvement goes in a new direction.
  • You need to keep informed about approaches other designers have used to solve similar problems so you don’t try to reinvent the wheel or publish fantasy heartbreakers.
  • You need to think of several different solutions to every problems rather than pre-select based on bias.
  • You need to try, evaluate, reject or refine, and try again until your design can be pronounced good by comparing to your objectives.

These are features of design, any kind of design. It’s not about how many copies you sold, or how long you have been working on an idea.

Day 26: Blogs, streams, podcasts?

I used to be all over the game forums and mailing lists scene, but a decade ago I pulled out because I was tired of bro culture meets Memento. Nowadays, I can be found discussing tabletop games in two spots on the internet: this blog and Google+. I do have a presence on other social media (Facebook, Twitter, Discord, Slack, etc.) but they’re more to keep up with friends.

Then there are those I follow. Shout out to:

There are many more, my apology to those I’m forgetting right now.

Day 27: Feature a TTRPG designer

Argh! So many. I hate that I’m bound to forget some great people if I try to name them all. I will narrow it down to the following:

Hayley Gordon and Vee Hendro (Storybrewers Roleplaying) for their excellent job of taking the Powered by the Apocalypse framework and putting it back together in a highly effective way for Alas for the Awful Sea.

Chris Spivey (Darker Hue Studios) for the glorious setting of Harlem Unbound, set during the Harlem Renaissance period and compatible with both GUMSHOE and Call of Cthulhu..

Elizabeth Sampat (Two Scooters Press) for the clever mechanics of Blowback: the push-and-pull of relationships, the adroit use of scarcity, the push pyramid.

Day 28: Favourite interview?

Ah… The only interview I gave stayed unpublished. So I’m going to refer you instead to the excellent interviews done by Brie Sheldon (Thoughty), Alex Roberts (Backstory), and Sean Nittner (Narrative Control).

Day 29: Your community.

My (tabletop role-playing) community is comprised of all people who are interested in reading, playing, hosting, creating, or learning about tabletop RPGs, want to talk about these games, and are respectful of other people. Some are long-time friends I met decades ago, some are people I’ve interacted online since the days of listserv but never met in person, some are people I just encountered this month hanks to Kira’s challenge.

We live in a wonderful time for role-playing games because the choice has never been so vast, the barriers to publication—while still very real—have never been so low, and decades of interactions in the community have led to excellent designs in all types of systems.

Naturally, this vast array of choices means all of us gravitate towards certain sub-sections and further away from others; in my case, I’m somewhere at the intersection of the hippiest end of “traditional” gaming and the trad-est end of indie/story/hippy gaming. It’s great, because that means I interact with lots of fantastic people with different ideas.

Day 30: Top tips and advice.

Read and play a lot of games. Talk and listen to a lot of people. Tease out the reasons why you like or dislike a game, a mechanic, a setting. Try a lot of ideas and winnow out the chaff. But most of all, enjoy yourself and help others around you enjoy themselves.

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