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!

Somewhat Disconnected

I realised today that all the adventures I have run in the past five years have been set above ground. One was on a snowy mountain top in the treeline in the dead of winter, one was in a fictitious Google office block in Mexico City, another in a Colombian jungle against a drug cartel, yet another was in the Spiderhaunt forest in the Forgotten Realms. No dungeons!

All the adventures I have played in the past five years have been the underground headquarters of an evil magician in Shadow World with a mix of old tech and fantasy, an underground undead infested cave system, and orchold and a hobgoblin cave system.

The last adventures I have published have been a  cave system used by an evil magician but behind it was a lovecraftian old gods site and a cave system filled with (avatar inspired) cat people ruled by an assassin were-tiger queen.

I haven’t published an above ground adventure in 3 months.

So I wonder why I don’t run dungeons?

I suspect there is an element of GM-snobbery going on. I tend to look down my nose at dungeons and bring up all those arguments about who built them and how do the inhabitants survive if this place was abandoned for centuries or how do all these chaotic evil races coexist so happily in this closed environment. I also don’t like dungeons because there is no one to talk to. There is no reason not to put intelligent beings in a dungeon but then you need to be able to justify why they are there and be prepared for your players to ‘charm’ and extract huge amounts of information about the dungeon and its workings, how to avoid traps and guards etc.

I think I am in a minority as the megadungeon seems really popular part of the whole retro gaming scene as does doing/clearing old style dungeons.

One of my failings as a GM is that my descriptions tend to fade away. I may start an adventure giving vivid and rich descriptions of the locations to set the scene, like “The corridor is heavy with the stench of burning pitch and the blocks of stone that make the ceiling are blackened with soot, the yellow light of the torches reveal the passage way to be disused and filled with standing puddles of water. The stones of the walls are slick with green algae and rivulets of water run down the mortar joins. Drips from the ceiling fall into the wide puddles that ripple with with every drop and the sound echoes along the corridor. ” but by the third dungeon corridor this is starting to slip towards “it is a 20m corridor, lit by pitch torches, there is a ironbound door at the far end with a burning torch either side of it.

By the fifth corridor I have described the same stone working techniques, the walls are still wet and the torches are still burning, the players are either imagining it or they are aren’t.

Interestingly, I don’t have this problem with my PBP game. I think as there could be a day or so between describing one room to the next, laying on extra atmosphere feels less like banging the same drum.

So how many of you enjoy clearing dungeons? Am I unusual in avoiding that as a location or backdrop for adventures?

Unrealistic Hitpoints, Funny Dice and Descending AC

The origins of D&D always fascinated me. For me it is very exciting to learn about the early days of our hobby, where fantasy roleplaying came from, and how certain aspects made it into the game.

Earlier today I stumbled upon two articles on the DM David blog which I found particularly enlightening:

Here’s a quote from the first post:

In the original D&D rule books, the combat system that everyone used appears as the Alternative Combat System. “Alternative” because players could just use the combat system from Chainmail instead. When Dave launched Blackmoor, he tried the Chainmailsystem. But it focused on battles between armies sprinkled with legendary heroes and monsters. For ongoing adventures in the dungeon under Castle Blackmoor, the rules needed changes. Original Blackmoor player Greg Svenson recalls that within about a month of play, the campaign created new rules for damage rolls and hit points. (More recently, Steve Winter, a D&D designer since 1st edition, tells of playing the original game with the Chainmail combat rules.)

If you’re interested in the history of our hobby like me, you definitely should check out DM David’s blog.

A Roleplaying Games blog

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