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Sergio Mascarenhas
April 25, 2001  

One day - the January 1st 2001, to be more precise - I was checking my email and there comes a message from a certain Sandy:

"Attn: Sergio, for Columnists


I'm sending this email to all the RPGnet 'inactive' columnists. 'Inactive' simply means I have no clue what you are up to. But if you email me, we can discuss future possibilities.

Now that Emma and I have regained control of RPGnet, I'm slowly trying to build the quality level back up. But our records are a mess. So, first off, I'm trying to find out who is interested in continuing their column work on RPGnet.


Anyway, let me know what your interests are, and if you want to columnize with us!

Good night,

Sandy Antunes"


The night was good, so I replied (errors included) ...


Very good question. It just happens that my new work takes me a lot of time (and I even enjoy what I'm doing!), so it's hard for me to dedicate time for my hobbies. <skip>

<skip> there are other RPG-related projects I've had to stop for the time being besides my column at RPGnet. Like writing my own RPG. And addressing some things I was supposed to write to RPGnet besides my column (reviews, rants, flamewars, things like that).

I want to keep collaborating with RPGnet. The question is how (and to have the time to do so). I can't do everything I was willing to do.

My idea is that I'll concentrate on the essentials. In other words, if I want to keep a space to my hobbies (I mean, an active space, not the passive lurking behavior of the past months) I can only deal with a thing, and it must be the more important one. What is it? The design of my RPG. I'll drop everything else. And even this I'm not sure I will be able to do.

So, the question is: s RPGnet willing to have a new go at an 'Live RPG design' column? In the past you had Skarka's column. Why do it again? From my point of view the good point about it is that this way I'll be forced to write the damn thing.

Well, here is my proposal:

1. I'll start a column where I write a new game piece by piece. The difference (and it's a major difference) is that, unlike Skarka, I'll really put in the web the game, not the design notes. I'll not be talking about the game. When I finish it the game will be there, complete and downloadable.

2. In each column I'll present a page (or a couple of pages) of the game. Plus the design notes that explain in detail the design effort that went into that page, the options I had to do things differently from what is written in those pages, and why I chose what's there and not something else.

3. I'll try to get support for the project from other people that collaborate with RPGnet. The people I'll try to get support are:

- A text editor, someone that will read what I write and rewrite it so that it sounds a lot more clear and better (English is not my mother tongue, and my writing style is lame). It will make my writing shine with his polish.

- An artist that will produce art for the game (drawings, paintings, whatever). He will had the images that support the text.

- Someone that will do the desktop publishing and turn my text (revised by the text editor) and the graphics into pages of a game.

4. Each one of my collaborators will provide his notes that explain his options. In fact, we will provide our correspondence, so that people can understand how we work.

In conclusion, the whole idea is to have a team of people designing a game right there at RPGnet. Putting into practice the things that many columnists (including you Sandy) have been talking about when they speak about game design.

How does this sounds to you? If you like the whole concept, I'll tell you what the game I have in mind is all about (what's the setting).



Some days latter, that's what I found in the mailbox:


Hi Sergio,

Since you are writing an RPG, we'd love to help you promote it. And I think your take on 'live design' is sufficiently different from Gareth's to make it worth considering.

I also think it'll be a tricky project to coordinate. There is both the game material itself, and also the meta-information: justifications for the design choices, editing and addendum, etc.

Another question is, would you be selling the game later? Putting it out entirely free and complete could cut into that for you.

Here's my suggestion. If you indeed are interested in having the game be free and complete and published on RPGnet, we can break with the usual column dialog and go for a different scheme: the fishbowl.

I like your idea of a team. We should assemble them in advance, perhaps by having an open call and then letting you choose from volunteers. Then, I can provide a multi-threaded 'storybook' tool. It lets you write a chapter or story or column, then add to it as a subsequent thread.

So you and your editor(s) and collaborators would have access to writing and altering the material. We'd attach the usual forum for feedback on the project as a whole. Imagine that 'r' is your rough chapter draft, 'c' is the editor's revision of it, 'd' are your designer notes, and 'a' is artwork. Readers would see something like this:


        /         |              \

    r1        c1                    d1

         /       |                     |

r2            c2                    d2

         /       |      \              |

 r3           c3        a3        d3

So each edited revision would then give birth to a new rough draft, then a new edited draft. There'd be a parallel thread for the design notes. Readers could compare the roughs and finals, if they want. Or they could just follow the chain of completed drafts to read the actual game.

Any artwork would be a thread, to be added into the print design-- so your artist can provide early sketches or directions as a hint/lure for potential buyers. Finally, they could simply read the designer notes as a separate thread, or read them in parallel with the rough/edited submissions at any step.

This would be very hypertext-y, and rather cool. At the end, you can offer it for sale as a printed item, a 'value added' approach. "Like the game? Get it neatly printed and bound for only $X". You won't make a lot of money this way, but should be able to get beer money (or chocolate money, or your addiction of choice!)

Does that sound like the direction you want to head in? This would be our first team/multi-threaded column.




Guess what was my reply ...

"Hi Sandy,

Yes, I also think that my take is different from Gareth's and from other people's takes on game design. One of the main differences is that I intend to end with a complete and finished game, while most game design efforts I've seen don't go past the 'alpha' version of the games.

Yes, it will be tricky to coordinate. I think I'll move on with the first stages by myself, and introduce the other members of the team when several things have been set.

I don't intend to sell the game... unless someone comes with a really nice offer. After all, if the finished product will be available for free in RPGnet, who would buy it? A possibility (but right now that's too farfetched) would be for RPGnet to publish a De Luxe version of the thing...

Now, to the fishbowl: My idea is that I should write a couple of columns first. In these columns I'll clear the ground for the game. I'll explain the whole concept of the game and how it's going to be design 'live' at RPGnet, provide an idea of the setting (it's an historical setting), talk in broad terms on the structure of the game and the game book. This will allow prospective team members to understand what they can get involved with. After that preliminary phase, we go to the process of assembling the team the way you suggest.

The idea of a storybook tool is very good. In that way I can experiment with several alternatives, discuss each one, and decide on the one I (and the team) will retain in the final game. And all notes and discussions will be recorded. This is exactly what I had in mind! What's more, we can envision other people taking up somewhere into the project, and developing an alternative version of the game on their own, a spin off that's independent from my own efforts! You got the idea better than I could express it.

Now, just to get you some more preliminary info:

The rules will be based on my current crop of ideas. I picked heavily from Chaosium games (that's my past...), but also from Hero Wars. In my notes I'll explain how I got where I am.

The name of the game will be 'The Travels of Mendes Pinto'. <SKIP, SKIP, SKIP>

I hope you like the idea.




  1. I'll write a roleplaying game. It will be done in a column published at RPGnet. This will be a monthly column.
  2. What I'll write month after month will be two things: an installment of my draft of the game; my design notes concerning that draft.
  3. At a given moment in time, other people will enter the process. They will fill specialized roles like: editing; layout and desktop publishing; art. These people will be chosen on a tender basis.
  4. From the moment the team starts to grow, so will the versions of the game. Say, we will have my draft, the edited draft, the edited draft with art, and the final version.
  5. At each point there will be scope for discussion. In other words, you will have the possibility to participate in the whole process through RPGnet's forum facility.
  6. The game will be called 'The Travels of Mendes Pinto', also known as TToMP.



  • Each time a column is delayed there is a penalty;
  • Each time a column comes sooner than promised there's a bonus;
  • For each bad/poor/ludicrous idea/rule/concept there's a penalty;
  • For each great/beautiful/excellent idea/rule/concept there's a bonus;
  • For each layout/editing/writing/art error/typo/ugliness there's a penalty;
  • For each layout/editing/writing/art wonder/breakthrough/beauty there's a bonus.

Penalties and bonus are expressed as fractions. Sum the penalty fractions, and deduct the negative ones. If the balance is positive (the sum of the bonus is greater than the sum of the penalties), add it to 1. If the sum is negative, add it to -1. 1 (and -1), where one corresponds to the value of D&D3ed (1).

Now, all you have to do is to determine the final value of the game. To do this, just multiply the value you got above by your investment in the game (2). If the value is positive, you just have to send it to RPGnet (3). If the value is negative, I'll refund you.



The interesting thing is that the whole idea developed independently of the other RPG design column that you can find at RPGnet, you know, Skarka's 52 games. By a weird coincidence, we moved in opposite directions: Skarka moved to a feverish exercise on diversity and minimalism. I moved in the sense of a concentration of intensified investment in a single project. We both are trying to stretch public and participative game design to it's limits.

If you read here at RPGnet my previous column - Ruleslawyer for Free -, or my rather short number of columns you may have noticed how much I like to have things structured, systematized, tidy. So it's only natural that I start with a a plan of action. Here it goes:

  • I have a fairly good idea of the game I want to design, the contents I want to have in it. That's why even before starting the game I'll discuss it's structure. Because what I'll write will be written within that structure. The end result will be a table of contents for the game.
  • Let me just state a platitude: RPGs are setting plus rules. My second topic will be the setting. After all, as the management guru Chandler has put it, "rules follow setting".
  • Since rules follow setting, my third topic will be the rules. Well, not the rules, but the basic principles on which the actual rules will be based (4).

The rest will be history.


I almost forgot, but ... here's the kiss: Who the hell is this Mendes Pinto, anyway?



(1) One has to recognize his own place in the Universe, and which are the standards to which one is to be compared. No matter how shameful being compared to those standards may be.

(2) I mean, by how much you payed to acquire the game. All other expenses - like expenses with net access, phone bills, your time - should not be considered for this purpose. After all, if you want a refund from something you buy in the market, you will not include the travel expenses in the bill, right?

(3) Sandy will distribute it by the team involved in the design of the game.

(4) I can lift the veil, anyway: the game does not involve 20 sided polyhedrons.



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What do you think?

Go to forum!\n"; $file = "http://www.rpg.net/$subdir/list2.php?f=$num"; if (readfile($file) == 0) { echo "(0 messages so far)
"; } ?>

All The Travels of Mendes Pinto columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Not Dead Yet by Sergio Mascarenhas, 18jul03
  • Still Struggling With Section 4 by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07mar03
  • It's Time For Combat by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31jan03
  • The Criminal Always Comes Back to the Scene of the Crim by Sergio Mascarenhas, 31dec02
  • Tahahahahime Is On My Sahide! Yes It Isn't! by Sergio Mascarenhas, 07nov02
  • Character Creation for Dummies by Sergio Mascarenhas, 08aug02
  • Thus Do We Start by Sergio Mascarenhas, 01jul02
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part II) February 21, 2002
  • Can You Give Us a Descriptor of the Subject? (Part I) December 6, 2001
  • Time for a Hiatus October 23, 2001
  • System as Language September 27, 2001
  • Don't Forget the Damn Index! August 30, 2001
  • R-O-L-E-P-L-A-Y-I-N-G  G-A-M-E  C-O-R-E  R-U-L-E-B-O-O-K.&nb\ sp; UFF! July 26, 2001
  • Who is this Mendes Pinto, Anyway? June 28, 2001
  • Once Upon A Time ... (How It All Started) April 25, 2001

    All Ruleslawyer For Free columns by Sergio Mascarenhas

  • Experience: From Fiction to Roleplaying Games September 11, 2000
  • The Applied Experience Curve Concept June 26, 2000
  • Experience Curves May 30, 2000
  • Trait Curves March 28, 2000
  • A Change of Course November 28, 1999
  • Spotlight on Alternacy, A Roleplaying System October 26, 1999
  • Introduction September 21, 1999

    Other columns at RPGnet

    TQo0~^DҒt< ek&Ǿ$\۵ZFȃuwݝIŃU QYir2HR2.u3MFoعq]4#A`pP5(b& )b)ⰾp7(i<[-2gL#5[f g?*rVGf8*)s'+20ϟ̑F}KB<7wSL\gbvm9WiRބYŜvd y0'p2I_Fc2>#o A )VL[Qk?3`)<У[(*W.JH ?tXCt谙 X:@ \0w ~LqĤE-rFkYœj4q 5AQ6[AxG [>w|?( fХθY䝛$c=_qNĦoǸ>O_|&/_Mi7"宥CЧk0dӷLh;TmuCGU-!Ul{ h<\bQX.~"O2*yPcz!ŠGg