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Brave, New World

First Time Game Design

by Charles Dunwoody
Aug 08,2005


Brave New World

First Time Game Design

By Charles Dunwoody

I've written about the campaign I've been running for the sci-fi game Bulldogs! But I haven't talked much at all about the design work I'm doing for the game. Since game design is a topic of great interest here at rpg.net I thought I'd talk about my experiences as a first time game designer.

Designing a Supplement

I'm not completely new to game design. I've been published in Dragon Magazine twice and facilitated some discussion about game design here in my column.

Basically, I like to play RPGs, read, and write. I have a full time job that involves none of those things so I do them on my own time.

I don't write for the money (of which I have seen very little so far) but I do cash any checks sent to me. I write because its what I like to do. If someone will pay me so much the better.

The Price and the Prize of Game Design

Writing a manuscript for Dragon Magazine only takes a few hours. Idea, query letter, read many rejection and few acceptance e-mails, write manuscript of a few thousand words, e-mail it in, revise if necessary, and you're done.

Writing a supplement takes more time. Before I talk about what I've gained, I want to talk about what I've given up.

I've given up a trip to the park and zoo with my family. I've given up sleep and lunches. Doesn't sound like a lot written in two sentences, but it adds up.

To me, the hardest thing about writing is you do it alone. But it's important, my family understands, and I try to do as much of it as possible when it will affect them the least.

What I've gained, beyond a little money, is peace of mind. My day job doesn't satisfy me directly. It provides security and money for extras (like the DMG II). I'm glad I have a job and I appreciate being compensated, but it doesn't directly satisfy me.

Writing satisfies me directly. If I'm not writing on a constant basis I start to go really nuts (rather than just a little nuts). I get nervous, antsy, and can become a real pain to be around.

If you can't go more than two or three days without the desire to write about something, anything, then you probably should be writing. Give up an hour of sleep if that is all the time you have.

And don't write just for money. As Stephen King says, if you write only for money you're a monkey. I'm not sure exactly what that means but it sounds bad. What I do know is that King believes you should write about things that matter to you and I agree with him.

Write because you love it. But still cash any checks that come your way.

Designing a Supplement

Everything I've written game wise started out as just as an idea I wrote down. I'd like to be able to customize summon monster spells. I want to see the ranger knight (a level title in AD&D 1st edition) as a prestige class. I'd like to add vehicle rules to Bulldogs! so Slug can use his feat to run over NPCs.

I then sent the idea to a publisher in the form of query letter e-mail. When I got the go ahead on some of my ideas, I wrote down everything in my head about the topic I wanted to write on.

At this point, writing a supplement rather than just a magazine article becomes more complicated but also more fun. With a magazine article, I have one theme to follow. Get the ranger knight's mount to have abilities like a ranger. Create a list of all summonable monsters and figure out how to balance it by spell level.

With the Bulldogs! supplement I ended up with a list of several ideas that I wanted to write about. I decided to simply make each topic a chapter and started writing about whichever topic interested me the most at the time.

As I get closer to my deadline (Gen Con) I started refining and getting down to real details in the supplement. I also started planning for playtesting. When creating game material, nothing beats playtesting to point out important concepts you might have missed or simply failed to write down. You might reread your rules five times and fill in a missing part in your head every time, never realizing it isn't on paper (or disk).

That's all that's involved, at least for me. All the reading, writing, editing, and gaming that I've done over the last twenty years contributes to my overall efforts. Hopefully, I'll get better and better the more I work at writing and gaming.

Is It Worth It?

Is writing a game supplement worth it? Is it worth giving up sleep and family time? Is it worth it knowing I won't be quitting my day job anytime soon to write full time?

Yes. I have something in my brain that makes me want to write and to game. I've been doing it for free for my friends for two decades. Whether I write professionally or not, I'm going to be writing.

And writing for a game company and an editor pushes me to be a better writer. I can't fudge things or let things slide. I have a commitment I have to follow through on. And I want to do my best.

Bettering myself, in this case by improving and refining my gaming and writing skills, is well worth it as long as I keep all my other commitments in order as well. If I keep my family and work commitments met, then I can write and quiet that voice in my head that is shouting out ideas and screaming that I should be writing them down.

Back to the Slimers

So how did things turn out for the Slimers? Last we left them, they were going after some space pirates to spring a crew of hard-shelled slugs.

The Slimers did rescue the T'Prill crew from space pirates and captured a ship for possible sale. I used the adventure Sen Gamma Rescue, which is available for free here:


I worked on just how much a character should be earning by level, with the Slimers going up to 2nd and 3rd level, while at the same time enjoying GMing with friends using a great game system.

What's Next?

I already know that I want to test out the vehicle rules I've written next. It will give Slug a chance to drive like a bat (or slug) out of hell. And, of course, he wants to equip the Slimer I with military armor. I wonder how much trouble looking for something like that might land him in?

Next Month

I'll have GMed Bulldogs! for a total of sixteen hours (!) at Gen Con. I'll have finished my manuscript. And I'll be looking forward to starting up a new campaign in September. I'm sure I'll have an idea or two to write about.

Keep your blaster handy and always shoot first,

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