All posts by Peter R.

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.

When Orcs Are Real

I have come up against an interesting challenge this week.

As some of you will remember I am working on a Wild West game. I like to use anything I am working on to maximum effect. To this end I am happy to throw a bit of money at things as needed. Having the right tools for the job can make all the difference and being interested in game design does not make you a brilliant artist, page setter or professional writer.

As my setting is a real historical period there is plenty of public domain art and original photography so from an art perspective the challenge is not to get great art created it is more about gathering real images that tick all the right boxes, that fit the chapter contents and so on. Then it is about having a game art style and making sure all the art fits that style regardless of its original source. This is more graphic design or even photo editing rather than ‘art’. The undoubted king of this sort of image manipulation is Photoshop.

Page layout is one of those things that can make a game look professional or amateur. Along with the layout are things like cross referencing, tables of contents, a good index and other elements that make the rulebook easy to use at the game table. In a PDF that also includes bookmarks and layers for ease of printing. Scribus is a perfectly valid page layout application but InDesign is more feature rich.

So if you are going to buy Photoshop and InDesign than you may as well have CreativeSuite. So that was my first investment in the game.

I also bought some books on using Photoshop and Indesign as the best software in the world will do you no good if you don’t know how to use it.

No I come to the real challenge. I am of an age where we used to play Cowboy’s and Indians when we were young and Western films more often than not had ‘Indians’ or ‘Red Indians’ as the default villain. When we played Boot Hill the Apache were the default bad guys. At the time we didn’t give this a second thought.

Now when it comes to writing a game in this genre Native Americans are a real people and many of them will be role players. These real people are not the cardboard cut out ‘bad guys’ of the movies but a wide range of culturally individual nations. In gaming terms Native Americans are not simply the Orcs of a different genre, they are real people and often the ‘historical events’ behind many Hollywood movies have more than one interpretation!

One of the things I have struggled with writing up this game is not the game mechanics, they are easy, it was the setting. So to solve that problem I have employed a professional writer. He has experience of writing for Pathfinder amongst other RPGs so understood the needs of an RPG rulebook.

It was much harder than I had imagined to write about the Old West. I think part of the problem was that as I am British this is not my culture and not part of my history. I kind of knew in principle what I wanted but putting it into text was leading into cul-de-sac after cul-de-sac of bad text.

On the other hand employing an American writer this is much more real and personal for them. Freelance writers are massively under paid in my opinion and I am getting three entire chapters of the book written to a professional standard for under $250.

So looking back at what I have spent on this project, excluding my own time which I would never charge for as it is my hobby and I only do it when I want to and purely for fun it is easy to see how and why many kickstarters have target values in the few thousands of Dollars, Euros or Pounds. If I could not get my art for next to nothing then my bills would certainly be mounting up.

I also really like the way the game is shaping up and cannot wait to see the finished game. I think one last challenge I want to put before this game is that of making it the subject of a kickstarter campaign of my own. I know what it has cost to create and so can put a realistic price tag on it. I have been happy to spend what I spent on the game but if I get that back then I can reinvest it in making more games. If I don’t then it is no real loss. With the money out of the equation as unimportant then a kickstarter campaign simply becomes a way of bringing the game before the eyeballs of more potential players. There is nothing better for a game designer than having people play your game. That is the real reward.

Making Monsters

I have been away for the past two weeks touring Iceland. Iceland is a country with a rich mythology of trolls, elves (the hidden people), viking sagas including berserkers, sorcery and witchcraft. It is a great place for getting inspiration as a GM.

I have also spent my holiday reading the complete works of H P Lovecraft. The Icelandic summer is the best time to read these if you are a wuss like me as it never gets dark.

Over the past two weeks I have written five adventures but for every one of them I have created new monsters. That is  a really odd thing to do as nearly every well established game has volume after volume of monsters. Why do I need yet more or feel that none of the five thousand monsters I have at my disposal are quite right?

The adventures I have written are, first and foremost, for my long standing group and will probably slot into the campaign after they complete their current adventure. I say probably as I am not a railroading GM and if they don’t take the bait then they could easily miss all of these adventures.

These adventures are also the ones I intend to submit to ICE for The Adventurers Guild. I would like to have played through them at least once before submitting them to the editor.

So why make new monsters?

I think the combination of the Lovecraftian influences and the Icelandic  mythology have created a set of adventures that need the perfect monster but also it needs a monster, or a better word would be foe, that the players do not know down to the last statistic, how tough it to kill, how dangerous it is in a fight and how to defeat it. Familiarity breeds contempt as the cliche says.

I left the monster building until I came home, I didn’t take a computer on holiday with me or rule books. I could check the odd rule here or there using the PDF rules on my phone but it was very liberating to just write the description of the creatures I wanted as I wanted them to be rather than be constrained by what was in the books.

The common factor is of course that rules play no part in the whole creation process. I can always ‘fix’ the rules afterwards. In this case it is just monsters. In this context rules equates to constraints and creativity and constraints are never easy bedfellows.

Adventure Writing is a funny old thing!

I have the opportunity to write some adventures for an official publication.

What the publishers are after are standalone scenarios of about 8 to 10 pages in length but statted for three different systems. The periodical that they are intended to appear in typically features five such adventures in each issue.

Writing the adventures is not going to be a problem at all. To be honest I could probably write their entire issue in a month on my own. The real interest is the statting for different rules.

All three games are very closely related, all from the same stable and work in the same way. The difference is in character creation as far as I can see as actual play works along very similar mechanics.

This is also the first time I have written for somebody else’s money. I write gaming material to sell almost daily. I write a monthly fanzine which I sell on RPGNow and Amazon, on my Rolemaster blog we publish a weekly adventure hook which we sell as a pdf, also on RPGNow. When I am not writing any of those I write for my own game systems.

Michael has published a wide range of games, dungeons and supplements under the Stargazer Games label, all of which are free. I think my most popular supplement is my set of solo rules for 7th Sea. These are just a variation of the Fudge Solo engine that I shared here. My favourite creation is my role playing game 3Deep. I tend not to write for free. Not because I am a mercenary but because I feel that if I don’t value my own work why should anyone else?

I also like to play about and experiment with things. By putting a monetary value on things you can use that as one measure of relative success. I am not saying that things that earn more are more successful but one thing we have learned is that supplements with witty, amusing or even slightly silly titles, even if they have detailed descriptions are a lot less popular than very traditional titles. Even of you reduce the prices. Fantasy GMs like Spiders and Undead they do not like sesame street references (do not use the Counting Count as your vampire reference!).

If you remember my wild west posts I said I would write them up into a game. That is still ongoing but I also came across an article on running a successful kickstarter. So as an experiment, when things are in good enough shape, I will launch a kickstarter. I just want to see how it works.

That brings me back to commercial writing. When I am not working on anything else I am still writing that wild west game.

So now I have this chance to write adventures for someone else’s game. I like to think that this is a little step up in my online reputation, a little bit of recognition. In the past year or so that I have been writing here for Stargazer’s World I have read and tried a lot of games and despite the fact that I know what I like I think I have been fairly open minded.

I am about to go on holiday for a few weeks. I am off to Iceland, the land of fire, ice and vikings. So I have packed my notebook and I hope to come back with a clutch of great adventures from which I can choose which to submit. This will be the first time I have worked with a professional editor so it will be interesting to see what sort of feedback I get! I will let you know how I get on.