Terrible Habits

Amongst other things I am an indie game developer and a hobbiest programmer. This means that I often find that if I cannot find just the right game or just the right gaming tool it is extremely tempting to create my own.

I really enjoy creating games and adventures. I really enjoy the challenge of learning new skills particularly when I am programming. Right now I am dabbling with Android programming using Java. I can write apps but the next thing I want to get to grips with is changing activities by swiping left or right.

So what has this to do with bad habits?

All of this stuff I do for fun. It costs me nothing to write a game, they are after all simply Word Documents until you decide to take things further. It costs nothing to code a phone app. They take time but they are fun so it is free entertainment.

The bad habit is procrastination. I was chatting with Michael recently, early November I think, and I said that  have a habit of writing blog posts when I am supposed to be doing other things. Well here I am again avoiding doing something that I will enjoy doing by writing blog posts.

So the thing I am avoiding is writing a adventure game book. I imagine that we have all read or played one of these at some point in the past. I started with Warlock of Firetop Mountain and I actually replayed the Sorcery! series last year when I was on holiday.

How I came to start on this journey is rather circuitous. We were talking on the Rolemaster forums about the target audience for the new edition of Rolemaster. Some people seemed think that a new version of Rolemaster would draw in new players from DnD. That is where the first players came from back in the early 1980s for the first edition of Rolemaster.

I tend to disagree. I can find no evidence that new games gain market share from the DnD following. It is more a case that people who play DnD may dabble with other games but tend to keep going back to DnD. If you ever have to change who you play with, because you have moved or your regular group broke up then it is a thousand times easier to find DnD players than any other system.

I was looking at my own habits and those of people I know who tend to play the widest variety of games. The common factor seems to be that we are always moving on. We pick up a game, play it for a while and then something else comes out and that takes our fancy so we pick that up and play that. The process is never ending. What this means for the smaller indie games producers is that although they may sell a couple of hundred copies of their game, the number of people in the market for follow on books is potentially very small. Take Zweihänder for example. I was looking at the Grim and Perilous Library today. The best selling third party supplement has sold less that 100 copies in four months and yet Zweihänder itself has sold something like 10,000 copies.

So it has been bubbling away in the back of my mind as to where do you get new players from.

Jump forward a few weeks and there was an indie game developer on MeWe who was rattling off his design criteria and one of them was to attract new players. I asked how was he intending to do that and the response was to make the game very close to DnD. I thought that those are not new players they are just new customers. A totally different thing. As part of that discussion it came out that one of  the perceived problems with introducing new players was ‘info dump’. Introducing a new setting, all the rules that make up an RPG, all the options for creating characters and so on. Some of these you can avoid by using pre-gen characters for new players. All the character generation choices are taken away and they get to see a model character and how it all hangs together before they have to create their own.

I then had my thought. A game book is a great way of introducing a a setting. You get all the words you need to describe the setting, key NPCs and set the tone. It is easy enough to create a cut down version of any rule set to fit in with the game but at the same time introduce a games core mechanic. At the end of a game book you can prompt people with the idea of limitless adventures if they upgrade to the full RPG version. Game books are a an ideal ‘gateway drug’ for RPGs and every game book reader that you convert into a role player is a completely new person introduced to the hobby.

The advantages don’t end there. A game book is free to create, just like any game it just takes time, creativity and effort. It is free to publish thanks to POD, Drivethrufiction and Amazon’s Direct Publishing.

People pay for books, so what I am seeing as an advert to hook people into buying games, other people are prepared to pay good money for. The average game books seems to be selling for about £4 (€5/$5).

Looking at the actual task of writing a game book at they are remarkably short. Tradition says they are 400 paragraphs long and the average paragraph is just 50 words. Some are much longer but they are balanced by “Your adventure ends here” when you die. 400×50 is just 20.000 words. Compared to a novel 20k words is pretty short, or manageable depending on your point of view.

The ‘direct route’ through a game book is typically 75 paragraphs  or about 4.000 words which feels quite doable. The rest is alternative routes, additional encounters and dead ends. This blog post is over 1.000 words and has only taken half an hour to produce.

So here I am I have a game book to write. If I get on with it I could write it in a matter of days. If I do write it I could earn a few pounds in sales, and then earn a few more pounds in selling copies of my own games and I will have introduced a few more people into the pleasure of role playing. A truly virtuous circle.

But what am I actually doing? I am writing a blog post about how I am avoiding doing what I am supposed to be doing to avoid the thing I am supposed to be doing.

Terrible habit isn’t it!

I have been blogging about Rolemaster for the past few years. When I am not blogging I run the Rolemaster Fanzine and create adventure seeds and generic game supplements under the heading of PPM Games. You can check them out on RPGnow. My pet project is my d6 game 3Deep, now in its second edition.

8 thoughts on “Terrible Habits”

  1. Nice to see I’m not the only one who spends time on low-value tasks! It’s just so easy to knock out up to 2,000 words on things I’ve read or seen that I spend too much time doing it. Even though a shorter pay what you want supplement does better!

    The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was my first introduction to RPGs, even though I didn’t hear the term or get D&D until several years later. I have been thinking of writing a CYOA book as well; I’m just not sure the best way of going about it, as it requires a different type of planning to other writing and I’ve yet to come across a good set of instructions. I have thought about trying to turn an old text adventure I wrote for the ZX Spectrum into one, but I’m having problems finding software to turn the sound file into something an emulator can use that will actually work on my PC.

  2. There seems to be several different philosophies on how best to write these cyoa books and I have picked elements from several.

    I have set myself a goal of getting it published by the end of January. To hit that goal I need to produce about 20 paragraphs a day to allow time for editing, revision , page layout and publishing.

    Yesterday I wrote 7 but have stubs for another 8 where I know exactly what will go there but I haven’t written them out yet. So I am behind schedule. On the plus side I made the big step of actually starting. I have a busy day today with a big family get together so chances are very little will happen today.

    As I was going on it was definitely getting easier. I suspect that I will not stick to the traditional 400 paragraphs but there are plenty of none fighting fantasy books that have more so it is not a cardinal sin to go over the 400.

    So despite being behind schedule, so far I am enjoying it and confident that I will succeed.

      1. I am not really sure I can answer this.

        The description of the process in this guide is rubbish but later on the list of dos and don’t I am trying to stick to. http://www.fightingfantasygamebooks.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=112&Itemid=37

        Part three of this guide talks about writing scene by scene and I am using that. http://jonathangreenauthor.blogspot.com/2012/03/how-to-write-adventure-gamebook-part-3.html

        This one uses the idea of chapters and bonus points and I want to adopt that. https://mawsig.iatefl.org/if-you-want-to-write-a-gamebook-go-to-paragraph-400/

        There is certainly no one guide I have followed. A real eye opener was the adventure maps on this site which showed me just how complicated the plots in fighting fantasy books are. http://outspaced.fightingfantasy.net/SVG_Flowcharts/main.html

        1. Thanks, I’ll take a look at them. I had considered going through existing gamebooks and plotting out the routes as done in that last link, then building a new adventure around the paths. That link does show the complexity and means I can consider that without having to manually do it myself!

          I think Jonathan Green’s is one I came across before.

          1. I was thinking of doing that but it seemed so much harder than writing a complete adventure myself.

            What was made apparent from the maps is that a ‘direct’ route is typically 75 paragraphs. The other 325 paragraphs are side quests, encounters and dead ends.

            I am going to write those 75 for the first direct route and then build on more alternatives. That means that as soon as I have the first 75 written the book is effectively playable. It will just get better and more complex with every addition.

  3. I’ll be interested to see the finished product. There are also ones that are far shorter, perhaps less than a hundred paragraphs. One thing I concluded from one of them is that when in PDF/ebook form internal hyperlinks make them a lot easier to use.

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