Monthly Archives: March 2008

How Do I Turn My Game Into a Text?

A game is a myserious thing.  It is a toy, an imaginary machine with precets that can be fiddled with, it has rules, procedures, and a life all its own.  It does not exist in the mind of the designer as a fully laid out book; it is an idea, a collection of ideas, each one symbiotically existing in harmony with each other.

So how the hell do you turn that into a book?

A text, is quite the opposite of a game.  It is not a procedure; it is a description of the procedure.  A text is not a game; it is a description and instructions for the game.

As designers, we make a game.  It is often a scattered diaspora of notes, scribblings, playtests and forum posts.  Once we can run the game smoothy, and have enjoyable, functional play, then the game is complete.  But until the game is transformed into a form where someone else can reconstruct the game (or a reasonable fascimile thereof), the game is not a text.

Enough waxing poetic.  Write a damn outline.

An outline is the first step for the writer of a big project.  Figure out what the important bits of your text are going to be.  I’m assuming you’re writing a roleplaying game; find a similar game, or one that served as inspiration, and look at that game’s chapter headings.  What do you have in common?  What will you need to add?  Is there anything extraneous here?

For Awesome Adventures, my outline included the following sections:

Information & Basics

Character Creation

Aspects in Detail

Skills in Detail

Examples of How to Do Stuff

Settings Adaptation

Player Advice

GM Advice

Sample Characters


Some of these sections got renamed or moved around, but they are all there in the final draft.  I found it helpful to make each of these chapters a seperate word file, so I could easily navigate the different portions of my book.

Under each of these chapters I figured out what needed to be in that chapter.  List everything here that you’re going to have to talk about.  If it’s going to get text, put it here.

For example, under Intro & Basics, I have the following:

What the Game is Meant to Be

What You Need to Play

How Dice Work

How Rolls Work

The Skill Ladder

Mention Aspects/Fate Points

And that’s pretty much what’s in the book right now, and almost a line-by-line reading of the first chunk of my table of contents. 

Once you’ve got your chapter headings and subheadings, look and see if anything is missing.  Is there a cool rule that doesn’t show up anywhere?  You’d better find a spot for it.  Does the order of things seem nonintuitive?  Now’s the time to change it.  (You’ve got Character Creation and Battles in different files right?  You can just neatly rearange them on your outline, without fussing through your whole text and trying to cut and paste whole chapters of text.)

Now go in and take those barebones files, and flesh them out.  Start explaining these concepts and your game.  When you finish a section, go to your outline and write ‘complete’ next to the heading.  This will help you keep track of what’s been written and what hasn’t.

Eventually you’ll have a finished text, one that you can read from start to finish, one that maybe has grammar.  One you can show to playtesters, and editors.  Oh, you thought your work was done, did you?

Retail: Garden of the Surreal II

(I ring up the items.  There are five of them, at $12 dollars each.)

Me:  And your total is $60.

Customer:  Sixty dollars?  What on Earth did I buy that was sixty dollars?

Me:  Let’s see.  (Prints out receipt.)  Five items, at twelve dollars each.

(Customer looks at me incredulously, as if five times twelve is somehow not sixty.)

(I wish this had only happened once.)


A customer came through my line.  He was grotesquely obese, and the smell was terrible.  I couldn’t figure out what it was, didn’t want to, and was doing my best not to smell him.

And then I saw the wet spot.  It was on the front of his pants, and going down his leg.  This man had peed his pants… and continued to do his shopping.


Kid:  Can I have something for free?

Me:  No.

Kid:  Why not?

Me:  Why should I give you something for free?

Kid:  I dunno.

(Same kid later was quite the trouble maker.  We almost had to kick him out of the store.)

SotC’s Designers on SotC’s Flaws

Over on Independent Insurgency, Rob Donoghue and Fred Hicks talk about Spirit of the Century.

I found it interesting that one of their topics was flaws of SotC.  There are two flaws key they single out:

Spirit of the Century drags in convention games during character creation, due to vast stunt lists.

Combats can drag due to the stress track.

So, anyone play Awesome Adventures?  I had those issues too, and designed a game around solving them.

Fantastic Plattecon Adventure II: Return to Platteville

Last weekend, Tim and I drove out to Platteville for another enjoyable Plattecon.

Friday night, as soon as Tim got home, we ate, loaded up the Jeep, and drove out.  After checking in at the Super 8, we got to the con.  Tom Nipple was setting up his fan-favorite board game ‘Dungeon,’ a 3-D Diablo-inspired hack ‘n’ slash game.  We had a blast, and played with fellow Madisonian Rebecca.  Notable moment- Tim teleported near me to hit a bunch of zombies with an Area of Effect attack, but it would have caught me in the burst.  So I hit him with a backfire effect, killing him instead.  Tim hit level 10 pretty quickly and went to town leading the crew through the end dungeon, and I took on most of the catacombs by myself.  Dungeon is four hours of totally awesome fun, but it feels a lot shorter.  If you go to Plattecon in the future and haven’t played this, you must do so.

Saturday we got a late start, and we weren’t really interested in any of the games being played (Munchkin, Apples to Apples, Changeling.)  Tim and I laid out the indie rpgs we brought, hoping someone might want to play, and did some reading.  Later, we played a game of Carcassone between the two of us, and then started attracting people, and played some Jungle Speed, always a hit.

John Monnet showed up, and played a few games with me and Tim.  Rebecca went back to the hotel to take a nap.  Then we had some people interested in demos- his friend Steve, who hadn’t played in a while, and Rebecca’s friend Mark.

In the games between me, John, and Tim, in one I managed to get a win with Project Apocalypse.  Once it gets a few tokens on it, it’s hard to stop, and it helps that I had a Tesla Lightning Cannon on it, another Tesla Cannon, and a Fox Pass, as well as loads of denial events.

The next game, I played my Return to Camp Donner Lake deck, which never really got off the ground, and John used his Architect Newest Model deck, and got out a very beefy tank commander, winning pretty handedly.

Then came the Who’s The Big Cheese Now tournament, the Wisconsin state championships for Shadowfist.  We had six players- myself, Tim, Jim Sensenbrenner, Rebecca, Steve, and Mark.  John sat out to judge and do another demo.

Round One:

Me- Ascended Cheese

Tim- Lotus Exploding Destroyer (a deck borrowed from me)

Mark- Lotus Hoods (a giveaway demo deck)

I kind of feel bad about this game.  I had some G-Men, then plopped down a Bull Market, and a Phillipe Benoit, and started stealthing around everything.  Tim got a White Ninja, but she was repeatedly Killdeered.  I had enough stealth on the board to run away with the game.  It was pretty sick.

Event wins: 1-0

Meanwhile, at the other table, Jim’s Jammer deck had an almost as quick victory, against Rebecca’s Monarchs and Steve’s Bar Brawl deck (borrowed from John, a very interesting Lotus-Dragon deck with Demon Hordes and Triumphant Heroes.   Much improved from last year.)

Round Two:

Me- Ascended Cheese

Steve- Bar Brawl

Jim- Jammers

I had a horrible early screw this game, and had trouble working up enough to get in the game.  Steve’s Bloody Hordes were working out very well for him, Jim had a Two-Face that kept stealing my foundations, but Steve finally made a burn for power when I had a Bite, and I was able to get into the game.  Jim also threw me a site via Potlatch to stymie Steve.

I finally got out Monkey Chang and a LaGrange Four, and was looking pretty nasty; Chang was killed, Jim took my LaGrange point, and was on a verge of a win- when time out was called.  We both had three sites, my tie-breakers were better, but he so would have taken another site from me that turn, and probably won the game.  But he didn’t.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend Tim, playing against Rebecca and Mark, managed to get his way to a timeout win with four sites- enough to get him into the final.  Not too shabby Tim!

Event wins: 2-0


Me- Ascended Cheese

Jim- Jammers

Tim- Exploding Destroyers

I get a pretty early burst from a Bull Market, resulting in a G-Men and Juan “El Tigre” Velasquez tearing up the place.  It almost looks like the game will be called on a coin-flip as only Safety Third can stop El Tigre.  The flip fails, and then Tim realizes Tortured Memories on an attacker can stop an attack.  The game goes on.

From that Bull Market, and other sources, Jim gets a Funky Monkey, a Gimp, and a Gorrila Fighter.  Funky Monkey prevents me from Biting him.  Tim gets a Destroyer (later toasted by a Rebel without a cause) and an Evil Twin of the Gimp.

The Emperor kills a Gorrilla Fighter and intercepts a Gimp to stop an attack.  A Cutting Loose ends destroys Jim’s Black Market Connections.  Jim and Tim beat me down, but I build back up.

On my turn for the win, a 5 fight Juan “El Tigre” Velasquez takes Tim’s damaged Festival Circle, stealthing around the Evil Twin of the Gimp.  Shinobu Yashida and a Student of the Bear take my other needed site- a full body Temple of the Angry Spirits.   And that’s that.

Event Wins: 3-0, and still the Big Cheese.  Wooooooo!

After that, there’s a draft event.  Jim sits this one out, with me, John, Tim, and Rebecca playing.  Hopefully Jim will get to play someday.  We drafted Critical Shift, Red Wedding, Dark Future, Netherworld 2, and Flashpoint, using the Foundation/Feng Shui draft stack.  I drafted Dragons early on, but only managed to get three Dragon foundations.  After getting a Shadowy Mentor and an Imprisoned, I drafted enough Ascended to run a splash, and Architects became one of my main factions halfway through.  I also had some very formidable Syndicate cards, so I ended up playing Syd/Arc, with splashes of both Asc and Dra.

John had mostly Jammers but he also had a splash of Dragons- my big competition for their resources, and a decent ammount of Architects.

Tim was running what looked like pure Hand.  I think he was drafting Purists early, and then the supply ran plain out.  He had some good cards in there, but not a lot of support.

Rebecca was running mainly Monarchs, with splashes of both Architects and Jammers.

Jim built a pretty sick deck.  He probably would have won if he was playing.  He had a Mentor, and a LaGrange Four.

I didn’t take too many good notes after the game, but I do recall taking Rebecca’s Summer Fire Palace and using it to good effect, and that my winning attack was against John, with a Zero G-Sumo in a Muscle Car and an Everyday Hero in a Megatank.

Sunday involved daylights savings time, and us being a little more on the ball in the morning.  We got to the student center, and sat down to play Dungeon again.  This was a pretty awesome game.  Tim played a glass-cannon- fast and strong.  Weak early on, but he was potent once he got going.  I played the mage, and had a good time with area of effect attacks.  Tim and I took on the end-game level pretty much by our-selves, and as a group we cleared the whole map.  Tim took on the great dragon and would have killed it on his next turn, except I killed it- doing 200 points of damage in one hit, enough to kill it in one shot, the first time the great dragon had ever died in the history of the game!  Woot!  Tim and I are dragonslayers.  Booyah.

After that, there wasn’t too much going on in the afternoon session, so Tim and I called it a day, and drove back to Madison to get some well needed rest.  But we’ll be back next year, and we’re planning to have a scheduled Games on Demand time slot, since hoping the rpgs would just play themselves didn’t pan out.

Hey You! Buy Awesome Adventures!

I got my proof copy today.  There’s some minor layout things I’m going to want to tweak before Forge Midwest and my print run, but it’s awesome enough to be printed for people.  You can be the first one on your block* to own it here.

*Unless you live on my block.  Like Tim.

Game Design on a Budget: Art

I was recently asked about how I went about the whole publishing process of my game by a friend.  While by no means an expert on the subject, I have some experience and am a cheap frugal person, so hopefully, my experiences might be of some insight.

When finding art for your game, you have basically two options- commission it, or find it.

Commisioning art involves finding an artist to draw a specific picture for your game.  This is useful if you have a very specific scene in mind, like “two zeppelins crashing into each other over an exploding volcano, and also there’s a robot riding a dragon,” for example.  You are probably not going to just stumble upon something like this searching the internet, so you need someone to draw it for you.

(That’s technically called finding an Illustrator.  You might commission an artist because you know their work is awesome, and just tell them to draw whatever they want.)

Commisioning is going to cost you money, more likely than not.  Since you want to spend as little money as possible on your first game, you’re probably only going to get friends to work for free.  And they won’t be terribly reliable.

Finding art involves looking at Deviant Art portfolio sites, or public domain files.  For Awesome Adventures, I got in contact with a number of Madison based artists, and Zach introduced me to Caroline Berg, and I had a number of already made art to pick and choose from.  Someone is more likely to let you use their art for free if it doesn’t involve any effort to them, and you let them keep the rights and ownership.  (Also, Caroline was awesome enough to draw some art to specs.)  The downside to all of this is that you’re working with other people’s visions- they might not be drawing the sorts of things you want, but if you have a sufficiently broad vision for what sorts of art you might want, you can figure out what might work.

Public domain art is another good source, but you may find yourself restricted.  There isn’t terribly much public domain fantasy or sci-fi art, but if you are writing a historical game, there’s a wealth of options out there.  John Harper used this to good effect in Agon.  I might look into this for art for Warriors from the Mystic Mountain, but I’ll probably be commisioning quite a bit of art too.

There’s one final way to get cheap art, but not everyone can do it: draw it yourself.  Vincent Baker drew some of the pieces in Dogs in the Vineyard.  You know your vision is going to be there, but not everyone is an artist, and professional quality art may make your game more attractive.

Retail: Garden of the Surreal

Whereas in the hospitality industry I found customers irritating and frustrating, in retail I find that my reaction is one of bizzare wonderment.  Each day my retail megastore is a potential new experience, a look into a dream-washed world of strangeness.  I present these exchanges without further comment:


Two customers, young men, trying to ironically use the credit card machine in Spanish.  They fail.

“I should have been able to do that.  I took Spanish I for four years.”


Customer at check out: “What is this?”

Me: “Bwuh?”

C:  “What is this?”

Me:  “It’s a clock.”

C: “No, I mean, how does it hang on the wall?”

Me, looking at package, reading the directions: “It says it comes with hooks, so probably with those.”

C:  “Oh.  I don’t want that.  How about this?” (Holds cup holder for car.)  “Do you think this will fit in my car?”

Me:  “What?”

C:  “Do you think it will fit in my car?  I have a stick shift.”

Me:  “Well, every car is different, you know?  I drive a station wagon, and it’s pretty big, but I still don’t think there’s enough room up front for that.”

C:  “A station wagon?  What kind?”

Me:  “A Ford Escort.”

C:  “Me too!  What do you mean you think it won’t fit?”

Me:  “Well, there’s the stick and the emergency break and everything…”

C:  “No, not there!  In the back seats!”

Me:  “Oh, yeah, sure, it’ll fit there.”


Customer, really old, writing a check: “What day is it today?”

Me:  “March 6th.”

C: “What’s the ammount?”

Me:  “$75.52”

Customer writes the date on the check as “6-75-52.”  She finishes writing it and looks at it, and then at me:  “Wait, what day is it?”

Me:  “March 6th.”

C:  “But then… wait, this can’t be right.”