Tag Archives: Writing

Is reading enough to review?

Michael recently republished his post on review writing. I have come to review writing rather recently, particularly compared to the experienced hands of Michael and Sunglar.

I thought I would share a few thoughts.

Stars Without Number is a game that I know has had very good reviews. I haven’t played it and I haven’t read it. I am not about to review it.

So traditional thinking falls into two camps. Either you read the rules and then try and convey the feel of those rules, probably by comparing it to other popular games and also comment on the quality of the material and art in the final package.

The other camp has you play the game and then describe how the game played.

Part of the problem with the former approach is that a game may look like an ugly duckling but turn out to be a swan or its production values may be terrible but at the table a great game comes out. I am part of an facebook group of RPG writers and many refuse to use page layout tools or art as these increase costs and slow down production times. There is little or no money in RPGs now for indie developers. If GMs expect games to me almost free then you will get what you pay for.

The later approach or actually playing a game is fraught with difficulty. My all time favourite game is Rolemaster and although it is a dangerous combat sort of game combat is the real problem with the system, in my opinion. The game system breaks down when PCs get to about 20th level. Many fantasy games have the stereotype of magic users are really weak at first level but become really powerful at high level. Rolemaster has this model but the ‘really powerful’ end turns out to be ‘really, really powerful so that the GM cannot easily challenge you any more.” So given that ‘design flaw’ can you ever expect a reviewer to  play a game so that his players reach 20th level before he has sufficient material to write an informed review? I think that is a little excessive?

Going back to Star Without Number there was an interesting solution to this balancing act on the TakeOnRules blog (https://takeonrules.com/2018/07/07/lets-read-stars-without-number/) So rather than reading the rulebook and posting a 1000 word review Jeremy Friesen has done a chapter by chapter dissection of the rules. So far he has published eight posts, each dealing with a chapter of the rules. We are looking at something like 8000 words published so far with plenty of examples of how the mechanics work. If the game isn’t for you then you would realise that after a post or two. If it sounds fascinating then you can keep on reading if you haven’t grabbed your own copy already.

I think this works. The game lost me when it was described as build from a foundation of Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons. I have that up decades ago and do not feel the urge to go back there.

Since I have been looking at a wider range of games I have invested hundreds of hours just reading games. Most have never formed the basis of a review. I think it is a case of “If you cannot think of anything good to say then say nothing at all.” Many game have some really merit even if they are not for me. I suspect that SWN is one of those games.

Some games I have read cried out to be played but my players do not feel the same. These I tend to resort to solo rules for. This is a far from perfect solution from a reviewing perspective but at least I can honestly say I have played the game. Reading The Princess Bride left me feeling vaguely dirty and needing a shower. Playing it to test its mechanics revealed its implementation of FUDGE to be very well done. What turned me off was the setting not the game rules. Once I separated these the nature of the game was completely changed. If you like the background to The Princess Bride then the setting would not have turned you off.

So whereas I agree with Michael that there is no perfect way to review a game and reading the rules is not the same as playing and sometimes reading is the only option I would contest that actually there can be other, quite creative, solutions to the whole RPG game reviewing problem.

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.

Mission Aborted!

It was my intention today to write about the new open play-test of Eclipse Phase 2nd Edition. As it happens on Saturday morning the play test files were updated the latest edition so before I can post about it I need to check everything to make sure I am still right.

So today I am going to write a bit more about me.

I have set my self a challenge recently to try and write 2,000 to 3,000 words a day either blog posts, game notes or creating resources. The actual target is 20,000 words a month. I am lucky in that I have a variety of outlets so I do not have to sit and grind away as just one document if the ideas are not coming. This week I have written posts for three blogs, six posts in all. I have written the first drafts of seven articles for a fanzine I publish. I have written one adventure, also destined for the fanzine. In addition I have started writing chapter one of my latest gaming book.

The book is the most interesting project and it is my carrot. I am not allowed to work on it until I have finished my other tasks for the day. This book is a sort of roleplaying for dummies. I didn’t actually realise that there were Dummies books for role playing but they have a range for D&D, GURPS and Vampire Requiem. What I have in mind is a little broader than their offerings and to be honest the examples that refer to actual play examples all use my own game as the rules system. You can spot the ulterior motive there I guess.

As a daily target I only hit the 3,000 words on two days this week but the lower goal of 2,000 I managed on three more days. I am pretty pleased so far. It seems to be a case of the more I write the easier it is to sit down and write. I think it is a case of once I have an achievable goal it is easier to strive to hit it. If on the other hand if you just say I want to write a book, a manual or a game then the goal is a bit amorphous and way too big to tackle in a single hit.

So why am I telling you all this? Well Roberto mentioned the other day that he has ambitions to write his own game. Michael has written Warrior, Rogue & Mage and I have released 3Deep.

The 3Deep core rules is about 30,000 words. WR&M is 5,400 words. It is very easy to produce a first draft of a game in just two weeks. Mind you, unless you are an absolute genius then writing a game is not going to make you rich. What sites like rpgnow have done is democratise games publishing so that anyone can produce their own game. The market is extremely crowded with homebrew (or roll your own as we always called them in our gaming circle) games, adventures and settings. Sorting the diamonds from the lumps of coal is a task in itself and trying to get your own game to stand out is even harder.

My RPG Howto guide is going to cover fantasy, modern and Sci Fi settings so I don’t care about the context. I just want to make the booklet as good as it can be. If I base it just upon my own experiences then that is a pretty limited window of experience.

So this is hopefully where you all come in. If you could give yourself some advice as a starting out role player what would it be?

P.S. That is 621 words done, 2,379 more to go.