Wednesday, December 29, 2004

d20 has left the Building

posted by L0N

Over on James Maliszewski's LJ Blog the Schizonomicon they are discussing the possible publishing of Pulp Call of Cthulhu. And many are wondering why they chose not to include d20 rules in it now. Well d20 has left the building.

I am not saying it is anywhere near dead as a game system. I think sales of WotC product will continue to dominate the sales charts for a long time to come. Along with the other folk like Green Ronin who do inventive things with it will probably keep making money with d20 related products, but the added sales from simply putting a d20 logo on a product are long gone.

Most retailers are very weary of any new product now and many consumers are have been playing d20 for over five years and perhaps are growing tired of it. You also have to factor in that if you dual stat stuff like Holistic Design did with Fading Suns you tend to annoy people who liked your game before. They get the impression that you are doing less for them when they have supported you from the beginning. You also have to ask is it worth doing the extra work in stat blocks for d20. Will this add to my sales?

I know in recent months at the store I worked for the only d20 we were selling with any regularity was WotC, Conan, and Warcraft. Green Ronin stuff would sit a while but would sell eventually. Mongoose had almost completely died and everyone else tended to be a special orders.

RPG games are a smaller and smaller market for shops that sell games. The store sold more things like Settlers of Catan (and its variants), Munchkin, and Carcassone. These board games turned over more often than most RPGs. I think RPG manufacturers need to worry about selling more units overall than rather or not they include d20 stats.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Iron Developer III: Return of the Iron Developer

posted by Doc Blue

I am currently planning on re-instating my Iron Developer event at Origins this year. I took a year off for various reasons, but was sorry I did for other reasons.

As a refresher, the original Iron Developer events essentially worked like this: Would-be Iron Developers showed up on the day of the event armed with nothing more than their wits. A secret ingredient, in the form of a physical object, was revealed, and the players, sometimes in teams of two to three, sometimes alone, spent two hours developing a game concept. Afterwards, the players presented their games and were judged on various criteria. The players with the best concepts went on to a 'best of the best' run-off on the last day of the event.

This year, for the return, I want to increase the difficulty. I am firmly in brainstorming mode at this point and am going to throw out several thoughts any or all or none of which may get incorporated into the new event. (They are listed in no particular order.)

* Increase the number of requirements from one (or two in the final challenge) to three to five. This would likely include one to two genre requirements, then two to three miscellaneous requirements (physical objects for inspiration, types of mechanics, ???).

* Include a improvisation component. Or more specifically, have the audience or the players themselves propose genres and other components, some or all of which are then incorporated into the challenge.

* Require the game be playable at the end of the process. This would likely mean giving the players more time, away from the stadium, to develop their game before judging.

* Include a specific core mechanic. This would be to facilitate having a game that could be run (by me if necessary) in the 'play' event.

* Self-publish the winning game via PDF.

* As noted above, have a separate play event where the winning game is played and/or where the top to games from the previous round are played and judged.

* Junkyard Developer - wherein the player-developers are handed a box of random pages from various discarded/out-of-print/public domain games, and need to use a certain amount of them in their own design.

* Trading Games - Wherein the player-developers, after making their first two hour development pitch, trade-off games for completion. In this case, I can see running the initial event as before, with multiple teams and judging at the end of two hours. Then breaking the groups into two larger teams to finish work on the top two games. Then, as a surprise twist, handing the teams the concepts of the *other* top developer.

I think those are all my brain-storms for now. Any thoughts would be appreciated. I can see problems with several of them, but I will save self-critique for another post on another day.

Monday, October 11, 2004

A Potential Game

posted by Doc Blue

Anyone out there remember Aria by Last Unicorn Games?

Over the weekend, I think I came up with an intriguing variant to the Aria concept. Based on the statement "As you change the stories, you change the culture", the idea is that the players play the characters in (cultural) stories. They tell these stories with the Storyteller over and over, with changes (intentional or otherwise) creeping in over time. After each telling, the play group takes time to interpret how that latest telling impacted the culture overall. Advance time a generation and tell the stories all over again in the next session.

Now - telling the same story each session sounds pretty boring, so I imagine some complications. First, (based largely on the Thursday Next books by Jasper Fforde) the characters in the stories are *aware* that they are characters in the stories and have lives within the context of the story outside of those depicted in the story. Thus, in additon to the conflict inherent to the stories, there can be other conflicts affecting the character lives in the 'story world'.

Second, to inspire change, the characters can change importance in the story based on their performance in the latest iteration. I imagine a system where every player has a number of 'chits' based on thier importance that they can use to influence the story. At the end of the story, they use their chits (used and unused) to reward the characters for a job well done. I imagine a system where you (as a player) can give no more chits to yourself than A) you give to other player characters, B) you have left 'unspent' at the end of a story, or C) both.

Third, if the characters are aware - then there is the potential for chacters from other stories to invade. Also consider 'narrative' monsters and natural disasters that the 'real world' is never aware of. Monsters that attack the form and function of language. Word storms, metaphysically looking like whirlwinds or tornadoes, that jumble words and stories.

Obviously, this needs a lot of fleshing out - but the concept itself is intriguing - at least to me.

And now - I've got to run!

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

D&D and Surfboardds

posted by Doc Blue

This is a post I've been meaning to put together for some time now, and now am going to try to collect my thoughts in about 10 minutes.

There are days that I believe that producers may be using the wrong model or example when attempting to do 'strategic planning' for gaming. If you look at the major players in the field, I get the sense that they think they are producing a commodity like tennis shoes: they assume nearly everyone needs them and that they just need to reach the target audience, they assume that the same basic design will work for everyone with some relatively minor tweaks to meet special needs, they assume that they can earn brand loyalty and raise prices because of that loyalty.

I think a different model may be appropriate. I think that the gaming industry is more akin other hobby industries. Take surfing for an example. (Now, I'm _not_ a surfer, so this is based only on my perception and used for illustration.) I will admit, there are likely a small number of mass-producers of surfboards and I suspect that obviously limited target audience can support a small number of mass-producers. These mass producers can act, more or less, like I described above. However, I strongly suspect that when you get into the serious surfers, many of them move away from the mass produced boards. My guess is that there are a major more numerous set of small board producers, operating off the beaches they surf, or did surf, themselves. These small shops hand-produce or at least hand-modify the boards they sell.

To wrap up quickly, as I'm out of time, what's my point? I think there is a place for the big players in the industry. But I think that there is also a very important role for small players. I _want_ someone to custom craft a game for _me_. I'm willing to pay more for a game that meets _my_ specific ideosyncracies. I want to run down to my local game shop and say, "We're changing the direction of our campaign, can you craft some new rules to meet our new needs?"

Is this just a dream, maybe. But I think the prevalence of PDF publishing makes it less so that it was a few years ago. Will someone open a 'custom games' shop in the future, probably, but until then....

Hang Ten!

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Notes on Working with Open Content

posted by Bruce Baugh

1. I made $57 as my share of sales for the monstrous advanced classes in August. I expect it'll go down some for September because I just plain didn't write much at all, but will be back up in October.

2. I just sent this e-mail off to Louis Porter, Jr., of LPJ Design. I've added hyperlinks for your browsing pleasure.

I just wanted to make sure to say "Thank you!" for the way cool Prototypes series of d20 Modern advanced classes you've been publishing at RPG Now. Ron Felice and Jason J. McCuiston have done some wonderful writing there - I love that the cinematic and comic book inspirations are clear, but not constraining. Each one has room to go in some fresh direction.

I made use of the class features for several of them (Freelancer, Gun Priest, Neo Ninja, and Urban Saint) for a Man in Black writeup as part of my own Monstrous Advanced Class series. Several of them made me think "yes, that's a tidy and elegant way of doing something I already knew I wanted to do", like the Neo Ninja's constant stealth ability, and some made me think "hey, that rocks, and I didn't think about it before, but that totally fits my project as well", like the Gun Priest's maelstrom attack. Thank you very much for your generous open-content declaration; I hope you and the authors find the use to which I put the material interesting.

Looking forward to future releases! (And now I'm really motivated to check out Haven, too.)

This seems to me an example of open content working well. In some cases I used Ron's and Jason's material straight, in others I modified it. But I didn't have to reinvent the wheel in any case, and I got some ideas that simply hadn't occurred to me at all. They get credit, and insofar as anyone gets inspiration from me, their ideas remain in circulation that way as well. Likewise, if anyone finds my work a solution to their problems, they can work faster and cooler, too.

It's possible that the advantages of this are only fully obvious to people who've worked in gaming. But to get credit for your stuff, to have a better chance of it not passing into oblivion so quickly, and not to have to go about obfuscating your borrowing, it's all very pleasant indeed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Tracking the Wily Intermediate Freelancer Pt. 2: Working on Spec

posted by Mur

In doing general research regarding magazine writing, I've discovered that it is generally a bad idea to work on spec - meaning that you write the entire article and attempt to sell it to a magazine instead of querying, getting approval and writing with the secure knowledge that money will be made. However, I am discovering that the RPG world is, as always, a different animal than the rest of the publishing world.

(I still can't convince my mother that the tiny amount I make writing RPGs is industry standard for someone with fewer than 10 titles. She insists I need an agent. I imagine the look on an agent's face when she figures out what 10% of $.0X a word is. But I digress.)

Back on topic, it seems that you cannot get an assignment writing for RPG publications - just write the piece and send it in. Dungeon, Dragon, Knights of the Dinner Table and Eden Studios Presents all seem to work this way, according to my research. (please correct me if I'm wrong)

While it would no doubt be impressive to developers for me to hand them a copy of Dungeon and show them my 20K word adventure, I have a fear that if I write an adventure and it's rejected, that's a hell of a lot of time and effort wasted. It's not like there's a bunch of RPG magazines I can send an adventure to after one rejection, especially if it's focused on a gaming system like D20. If I wrote a women's health article and failed to sell it to "Shape," I could still send it to "Self," "O," or any number of magazines. My RPG choices are narrowed to keeping the stuff and running it for my gaming group or publishing it online.

Is there another way? I have plenty of RPG work I can show to a magazine; would they respond to a query? Or is the answer just to suck it up and write a bunch of stuff that might not get published?**


** "Ah," you must be thinking, "This Intermediate Freelancer is a whiny one." You may be right. Gaining experience in this field makes me feel as if my number of questions has multiplied. Before, when I scored an assignment or two, I was bowled over with my only question being "Golly, can I really write all that?" Now I look to get more, and more diverse, work, and am finding the prospect daunting. And to anyone who is keeping score, no responses back from any of the contacts I made at Origins, except from Eden who told me to submit (on spec) to Eden Studios Presents. Hence this post.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

the Rock Soup RPG

posted by L0N

Something my gaming group has only done twice, but had quite a good time doing is playing the Rock Soup RPG.

The whole idea started is one of the usual suspects in our gaming group never threw a character sheet away. From one-shots and never got off the ground games. And characters she played for a year or more were in the same beat up manila folder. Characters sheets from Paranoia, CP202, Vampire, 1st ed D&D, Top Secret SI, Middle-Earth Role Playing and well you get the idea.

One night Chuck (another of the usual suspects) joked that someone should take the character sheets from the folder randomly pass them out and try and run a game with whatever people ended up with. This got the wheels turning in my head and a few weeks later I tried it.

When everyone arrived at our house I asked if I could see the folder I drew out one more character sheet than the number of players there that night. I then shuffled them as best I could and passed them out. It has been a few years but if memory serves we had characters from Champions, Cyberpunk 2020, Paranoia, Gamma World, and two others that I can't remember any longer.

I ran a game where the players were "champions called from across time and space" to defend the multiverse from the Daleks. I tried to use the rules native to each game system when possible, but the whole thing was made up on the fly so there wasn’t a lot of strict adherence to the rule. But more of an attempt to just have fun. The night broke down into high comedy when trying to rescue one of the players from a 1920's hospital they realized the only person that could drive a car was hiding in the trunk. Eventually they saved the multiverse and went home.

We tried it one more time with less success than the first, but it was an interesting experiment to try a couple times. I wanted to give it one more try, but the owner of the manila folder cleaned it out so it only had character sheets for active campaigns.

If anyone tries this please let me know. I would like to hope that someone else will play the Rock Soup RPG.