Category Archives: Game Design

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!

Raising Azazel (a FUDGE game)

So you may remember that I wrote at the start of November that I was going to do the NaGaDeMon challenge this year.

I managed to write and publish my game, going by the name of Raising Azazel. It is a PWYW on Drivethrurpg.

The challenge I signed up for was a FUDGE specific one. There are lots of different challenges in the NaGaDeMon community and the FUDGE one suited me and was  technically a bit easier in that the core mechanics are already tried and tested. It then became more about creating the setting and the story background and then customising FUDGE to bring it all together.

A month is surprisingly short when you set a deadline at the end of it!

The game I released was virtually unedited, had only been played once and in hindsight has some rather important omissions such as there is space of the character sheet for experience but absolutely no rules for experience in the game.

I did create lots of bespoke art for the finished, and I use the word finished lightly, game but every single piece is in exactly the same size and format. If I were to do the page layout again I would recreate most of the art.

I wanted the rule book to be almost a graphic novel with all the background and game setting depicted that way. As it is you get one page of the graphic novel and then a few odd panels dotted through the book. Graphic novels are hard to write if you are rather talentless as a writer!

Still talking about layout there is one example explaining a rule that is separated off into a boxout but none of the others are. I think they all should be so they are easier to find.

Something that I had seen in Terry Amthor’s Shadow World books that people seem to love are his vignette scenes at the top of each chapter. I had wanted to recreate that but the problem is that these require artistic talent as a writer. I did come up with something rather cool. I grabbed a couple of public domain books, one on devil worship in the 19th century and one on astrology. I then changed the odd word here, inserted my characters names for historical figures and such like and used these as extracts from fictitious books. I think they were quite cool but I think I need one at the top of every chapter so that the layout is consistent.

On the topic of chapters. I thought that it would be cool to have the chapter names and headings in Latin as there is a church conspiracy running through the game. This was a bad idea! Did you know that Chapter Six in Latin is Caput Sex? That is neither scary or cool.

So I have a choice now. I can confine Raising Azazel to the depths of OBS, never to be mentioned again or I can revise, edit, fix and improve the game. As I enjoyed the work I have done on it so far I rather fancy the second option.

So I am planning to try out Indiegogo. In the new year, I am stacked out right now with projects, I am going to launch a campaign and try and get some funding to do the bits I cannot do well done properly. It will also teach me something about how Indiegogo works and how to run a campaign.

If you are still reading this and you haven’t already seen the link to Raising Azazel on the Stargazer’s World MeWe group then could I ask you to have a look and give me some critical feedback in the comments? I can then evaluate it and build a todo list that will become part of the Indygogo campaign.

Here is that link again

Raising Azazel Fudge Character Creation

Character Creation Basics

I will confess that creating this NagaDemon game has meant I have read the Fudge 1995 rules in detail for the first time. Up until now I have been working off of other peoples derived games and their customisations and interpretations.

So I am now writing up my character creation rules and I am having three primary attributes. These are Mind, Body and Spirit. I was looking at that list for ages and I could not work out what was odd about it until I realised that RPGs seem to prioritise Strength over everything else. I can remember D&D being Str, Int, Wis. Rolemaster has stats in two groups of 5. The first are the development point stats and they start with Con and the second group starts with Str.

I think that Mind, Body, Spirit feels more natural when you say it than Body, Mind, Spirit.

I am giving players 11 points to spend on the three attributes assuming they all start at -3[Terrible]. So a character should end up with one Fair and two Good attributes if they spend their points broadly.

A fourth attribute I am stealing from Ghost Ops and that is Boosts, basically Fudge Points. I think Boosts sounds more dynamic and less fuzzy than Fudge Points. Everyone will get 4 Boost Points at the start of play.

For the skill selection I have stripped out the supernormal skills such as spell casting as I don’t want the starting PCs to have access to magic. This left me with 19 categories and about 150 specific skills.

I am happy with that scope and I am giving players 30 points to spend. The default skill level will be -1[Poor]. No skill can be above Superb.

I am also going to use skill specialisations. So Combat would be a skill category, Swords would be a skill, Rapier would be a specialisation. Each character will get 10 points to be spent on specialisations with no more than 2 points spent on any specialisation.

At the moment I have not included gifts and faults. As I don’t have long to get the game up and running, leaving these out make for a simpler system.

For the GM

I have detailed nine broad character concepts with the character’s reason for becoming involved in the conspiracy. This information is for the GM only. They[the GM] should work this into the character’s back story. These concepts are things like The Journalist, The Law Enforcer, The Cult Survivor, The Hacker, The Curate, The Scientist, The Conspirator, The Investigator and The Mystic.

What I am aiming for is a sort of hidden agenda where without giving the main conspiracy away immediately, it is intrinsically linked to the character.


I do have a habit of procrastinating. I think of it as giving myself time to mull over ideas. One nice way to procrastinate is playing with the art to decorate this game. I am thinking along the lines of building it up like a graphic novel. Here is the first panel.

So so far this is all pretty run of the mill except maybe for the GM only element of character creation and the GM having a hidden agenda to weave the conspiracy into the characters’ back stories.

If you want to follow the creation process then I am trying to post more frequent updates to twitter, if you are into that.