Thursday, 25 December 2014

Rolling with Impact

Hello world,

It’s the Christmas season, the time for ugly sweaters, creamy desserts and curling up next to the fire. This year I have chosen to catch up on my reading, and in doing so I stumbled upon a blog post titled “How Not to Notice Things” that caught my attention. Within this article the author talks about his opinion on perception checks. If you haven’t seen the article I strongly recommend it raises some excellent points and the examples  given are spot on. For those who haven’t read it, the focal argument of the piece is that a skill check outcome of “Nothing Happens” has no redeeming value within the game.

I agree with this completely, not only that but I believe  an outcome of “Nothing Happens” even take away from the game. If a player is making any form of check within the game, they are trying to influence the fiction in one form or another.

If the character succeeds and gets what they want, they feel powerful. Their character shaped the fiction to the their desire.

If the character fails, and the situation is escalated, the player is engaged. Their failure has either made things worse or raised the tension within the game. The player now wants to correct this mistake and is a lot more invested in the fiction.

If the character fails and nothing happens, the player is bored. They have tried to interact with the game, but were ultimately denied access because their character isn’t good enough. In this scenario, skill checks are solely a gating mechanic.  Meaning your character needs to be ‘this’ powerful or your rolls ‘this’ good if you want to play the game. This is a really bad practice as it completely disengages the player. Saying “Nothing Happens” is equivalent to telling the player their actions don’t matter and in a medium which is built upon expression, that is a huge problem. Every roll and action should try to get the player more invested and involved in the game. The best way I have seen to do this is by ensuring that every roll has a notable impact on the game, no matter the outcome. This doesn’t even have to be a mechanical impact it can purely be narrative.

The author of the article has a couple of really good examples in this regard. In their scenario ‘Steve’ is have a drink at a bar waiting to meet up with ‘Lacey’. During this time a rival enters the bar. The GM then requests the player to make a perception check to see if they notice the rival:

GM: “Steve, give me a Perception check.”
STEVE: “I rolled a five.”
GM: “Out of the corner of your eye, you see a guy walk in.  He looks familiar, but you don’t get a good look.”  (Steve can then act on this information.)

GM: “Steve, give me a Perception check.”
STEVE: “I rolled a five.”
“As you’re waiting on Lacey, a suspicious character walks in, heads to the back booth.  Before you do anything else, though, Lacey walks in and sits down next to you.”

The brilliance in both of these resolutions is that even though Steve fails, the game still progresses. In fact I believe the second example yields a more result than if Steve were to succeed. In the future when you are planning encounters or designing mechanics, think about how to engage the player through failure.  Because at the end of the day,  we are still playing role playing games, and as such we should aim to engage our players as much as possible.

Thank you so much for reading, and enjoy your holidays!

-Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Experiential Goals Within Role-playing Games

Hello World,

There is an old adage with tabletop games called the ’20:4 Ratio’ that states within a 4 hour RPG session, the average player only experiences 20 minutes of fun.  While the ratio poses a rather unfair and generalized opinion, it wouldn’t exist if it didn’t hold some truth.  While there is a plethora of factors that limits the amount of fun to one tenth of a game, I believe it is most severely caused by a lack of coherence within the game.

Coherence is built when the players, system and surroundings all promote the same experiential goals. These experiential goals, often called a creative agenda, are the embodiment of what a player wants to achieve within the game. This agenda is different from person to person, and can fluctuate over time. One day you may really want to play through a challenging dungeon crawl, while another night you are craving a comedic adventure. The more the game you are playing aligns with your experiential goal, the more ‘fun’ you will have.

Thinking about it, I have never heard of something like the 20:4 Ratio occurring in video games. At least not to the same extent it has for tabletop RPGs. I think this is primarily due to how focused and concise video games generally are. When you start up a video game you know exactly what you are getting into.  Start up a game of Super Mario 3D World with some friends and all the players expect the same thing. They experiential goals align with that of the current game.

 “Complete the level with the most points”

It’s when the goals of the group don’t align that the experience stops being fun. For example, if one player in the above group wants to instead focus on collecting all the secret stars in each level while the others compete for points, the experience becomes a lot less enjoyable. However, if all of the players are make it their goal to collect the secret stars, the experience becomes fun again.

This is an area that I feel tabletop RPGs really struggle in. Within the same campaign each player can have drastically different experiential goals. This is due in part to a lack of communication within the group as to what game is going to be played. If the game master says he wants to run a cliché swords and sorcery themed game, different players get different ideas in their mind. One player thinks the game will be about traversing dangerous caverns to reclaim magical artifacts. While another wants the game to be about political intrigue in a mystical setting. The GM however may be prepping for an epic quest for revenge. All three of these players might as well be preparing for three different games. Within this campaign it is likely that the second player will only have 20 minutes of social intrigue in a 4 hour session. The game only aligns with his experiential goal one tenth of the time, giving him only 20 minutes of fun.

That premise of cliché swords and sorcery does not help the group focus on the games’ creative agenda.  What is more important is to determine the game’s aesthetic. If the game is going to revolve around gritty and challenging dungeon crawling, make sure everyone knows and is on board for that. Once the aesthetic is figured out, make everything build upon it.

- Have a setting that has danger around every corner and resources are sparse

- Pick a system that emphasises that style of play [Dungeons & Dragons / Pathfinder]

- Set up you play environment to echo the game, dim lighting [candle even],  dark and ominous/epic music playing or even some dungeon ambient noises.

Art Can be another good way to convey aesthetic

If all of the stimuli  within the game points towards the same aesthetic, the experiential goals of the players are more likely to align, leading to a much more enjoyable game. While this is a very extreme case the point still remains, try to make everything about the game consistent. More consistency means a higher likelihood that experiential goals will align.

If you are interest in learning more about this topic you can check out:


For now though, Thanks for Reading

- Patrick Lapienis

Thursday, 11 December 2014

The Road to Kickstarter

Hello World,

With National Game Design Month over and Trials of the Magi released it is time to look at the path going forward, and what a path it is.

As I discussed in my previous postTrials of the Magi was developed under a time restraint and in my opinion has a lot of room to grow. At its core the game is unique and entertaining but some of it’s execution doesn’t convey the theme as well as it should. With that in mind I have been looking to grow TotM into the game I know it can be. Though play sessions reviews and comments I am refining the mechanics and polishing the text.  All to create a game that I can be proud to put my name on.

With this improvement I want to take the game to print, with an improved layout, more art and a small print run. But with my current budget as a designer this isn’t possible. This is why I am going to be taking Trials of the Magi to Kickstarter in the upcoming year. This leaves me with a lot to get done between now and the launch of the kickstarter, and I will be working tireless to deliver the best product possible.

In other news I am currently finishing up the paper work to licences my own game development studio, Sproutli Games. I look forward to delivering countless quality games to you all in the future under the Sproulti moniker. But this new name isn’t the only big development at Sproutli, we have been working hard to create a developer website. This website hopes to allow you to stay up to date on the company’s latest projects, communicate with other players and act as a centralized location for all of our products. You can expect this site to be up by mid-January so look forward to that!

The road ahead will he arduous, but with your support I know that we will take Trials of the Magi to heights that I couldn’t even Imagine!


Thursday, 4 December 2014

Game Design Month - What I Learned

Hello World,

As some of you may know, over the past thirty days I have challenged myself to enter National Game Design Month (NaGaDeMon). It was a brutal and grueling month but I managed to pull through it and I am so happy I did. Not only did I develop my skills and endurance as a designer I also now have another game under my belt which I am proud to put my name on.  In today’s post I would like to share some of my experience with you.

So without further ado, here is what I learned from developing Trials of the Magi.

The idea for Trials of the Magi started with one simple word, a word that sent me down a thirty day rabbit hole.


A simple word, but with a big goal, make and educational RPG in which players cast spells through the use of mathematics. It sounds cool on paper but the execution needed to be perfect if the game was to be fun and educational. I wracked my brain for days trying to execute this without being ham handed. After a lot of experimentation I couldn’t come up with anything I was happy with. However in this development period I did come up with the Magi Paradigm Matrix. This little chart was a clever way to track a character’s affinity to each of the eight standard schools of magic. Rather than beating my head against a proverbial wall with the mathemagician angle I decided to see where this arcane placement chart would take me. This is when TotM started to get the form you see today. I associated each of the axis on the graph with two polar attributes, both within the game and in real life. This connection to real mental traits allowed me to determine placement based on a personality test, opening the door for the game to travel into alternate reality game [ARG] territory.

I have always liked ARGs as the have this sense of immersive mystery within them that other genres seldom achieve. And with ARGs being such a good tool for education, it was something I wanted explore within my game. This exploration lead to the game’s central premise. TotM is an ARG, in which you play a tabletop RPG, in which you play yourself. It’s a crazy premise, and I was curious to see if it would work. So I did tons of research on both educational games and ARGs, This itself actually took a hand full of days to complete. (If you are interested I recommend Extra Creditz’s videos on the matter which can be found HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE)

With a good amount of ARG research done, I progressed forward, now looking to tie in an educational aspect to the game without being obtuse or ham handed.  After a number of failed ideas I came up with “Understandings”, which is one of the key tools within the game for character individuality. Because players would be playing themselves, Understandings could be used to shape their character around their own personal knowledge and experiences. This was great because it encouraged players to go and educate themselves about a topic without flat out saying ‘Go learn something’. The self-directed nature of the Understandings promoted learning without taking away from the fun of the game. I continued to develop this to the point where the game was ready for playtest.

My main playtest group for NaGaDeMon was comprised of players who had never met or played together before. After some minor introductions we got down to making characters and one thing immediately jumped out at me. Understandings were an amazing icebreaker. Getting each of these strangers to share interesting facts and trying to impress each other with what they know really got people open up to one another. This is something I didn’t even consider when designing Understandings, but it was such a great side effect, and I was so happy with its occurrence. Game mechanics can be surprising like that and this is another reminder of why playtesting is so important.

After a week or two more of typing up the rules and play testing, the system was beginning to develop into a full fledged game. It was at this point  I could pass around the game and get opinions on it. While I got a number or responses back, only a few people were able to give me a critical view on the games strengths and short comings. This was so important because it directed me to enhance aspects of the game that were weak, and drive focus to its strong points. While I wasn’t able to address all of the concerns before my deadline there were plenty I was able to get to.

During this review phase I also began editing my rules. oh my god, am I ever happy that I did. I went through 5  personal revisions and 2 external revisions in order to get out all of the spelling mistakes and to make the game make sense. The number one thing I learned here is that you never realize how important editing is until you start doing it. Through all of these edits, playtests and revisions the game became what you see before you today [and I am sure there are still things I missed].

While I have enjoyed playing the game and think that it is a fun and interesting system, I think that it can be so much more. The games shortcomings proved to be a valuable teaching tool, and in my opinion the greatest shortcoming the game has is its lack of focus. Throughout the design, there was a lot up in the air until the last minute, as a result the game wasn’t able to cater the full experience to its target audience. In future projects I would like to ensure that this catering happens better.

This also leads me to my final thought with the game. At its core, this game has some really interesting ideas and if I am able to polish the experience and really focus on my target audience I feel that it can become something great. That is why over the next several months I will be developing the system further and taking it to print. You can stay up to date on those updates by following  me on Twitter or by following this blog.

With developing the game further I would love to hear from everyone who reads/plays Trials of the Magi. Any thoughts, ideas or concerns you have about the game, I want to hear them. The more I get back from you the better the experience I can deliver in the future. Please contact me using the form on the right hand side of this blog or by email at

As always thank you for reading, without people to play the games and  read the blog posts I make, there would be no reason to create them. Thank you.

- Patrick

Thursday, 27 November 2014

[Design Talk] The Power of Inventory

Hello World,

Equipment, items, supplies, phat lewts, whatever you want to call them, they make an appearance in almost every RPG system. From the heavy inventory focus of D&D and Pathfinder to the narrative importance of Fate or Heroquest the methods of item representation can be done in countless ways. I am noy going to debate about which game handles inventory the best because each has its strength and weaknesses. Instead I would  like to talk about the importance of how you handle items when designing a game. But first, a story.

About a year ago I was running a Pathfinder game in which one of the players had grown fond of his characters pair of bolas. These weren’t special bolas, just the simple kind which you could buy and any store, but they were his favorite piece of equipment. This attachment developed from a number of encounters in which a good bola throw got the team out of a jam. He could always rely on his trusty bolas. But tragedy stuck...

One fateful night, as a thief was making off with their valuables, a lone bola toss stood between the thief and her escape. The bola flies true, entangling the thief’s legs and knocking her to the ground. The group begins to run up to the downed thief. Seeing her foes approaching the thief begins to panic, she pulls out her dagger and cuts the rope of the bolas. Dropping the stolen goods, she is barely able to make it out of their alive.

In that moment a minor unnamed enemy became the most hated villain of the game. The player was heartbroken at the loss of his trusty weapon, and for some time the campaign became focused on tracking the thief down.

I was trying to make one thing clear with this, stats don’t always make an object important, interactions with that object do. Whenever you are designing a system, always ask yourself, what objects result in the most impactful interactions? I know that may seem like an odd question to ask, but hear me out. Items only matter when they have some form of major impact on, or connection to the player. Unless players within the game are going to be stranded and hunting for resources chances are, things like rations, tents and encumbrance don’t really have a big impact on the game, and may be better left out. In fact a lot of game masters choose to drop these rules because all it adds is needless micromanaging to their game, taking away from the experience they are trying to deliver.

Same goes for weapons and equipment. Ask yourself, what do you want to have a larger impact in your game, the player’s connection to the weapon or the weapons qualities? Do you want your player to use the sword that is passed down from their father or the enchanted blade they plundered from a perilous dungeon? These are all questions which should be asked, and the mechanics of the game should be designed around those answers. Don’t just put in an item list because other games have item lists, put one in if it makes your game better. A good comparison you can do when looking at this is by comparing the Dungeon World fighter with a Pathfinder fighter.  Pathfinder fighters are always on the lookout for the next best piece of equipment, while Dungeon world aims to have the fighter develop their skills with a single weapon. However you go about handling equipment and items within your system, ensure it improves your game. Never add mechanics just for the sake of having them.

Thanks for reading,

-  Patrick

If you would like to suggest topics for future posts, you can use the form on the right hand side to email me directly. You can also stay up to date on my latest projects and posts by following me on Twitter or Google +

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Growing as a Developer

Hello World,

As those of you who follow me on twitter may know, I have entered the National Game Design Month Challenge or NaGa DeMon for short. Participants of this challenge are charged with the monumental task of designing, creating, and playing a game over the span of a month. I am currently two thirds through the challenge and it has been a herculean gauntlet so far. Fitting the countless hours of game design into my already busy schedule has left me stressed and exhausted, but truth be told. I love it.

I know it sounds strange that I love an action that is making my life more stressful. But I am both doing something I love, and improving skills as a designer. I have heard it said that a person only grows when they are pushed outside their comfort zone and I agree with this statement completely. In most cases we won’t force ourselves to grow unless we have to. We get complacent and we do what is easy, over what is right. But by challenging ourselves to do something difficult we are driven to complete a task which is beyond us. Growth is that moment when you complete the challenge and realize that it wasn’t too great for you to handle. With new found vigor and courage, you strive to take on the next challenge, which is even greater than the last.

But there is a dark and looming flipside to this mentality. The fear of failure. No matter who you are, there is always the voice which tugs at the back of your head, reminding you of all the consequences of failing. We get so caught up in this fear that we become too afraid to challenge ourselves. But fear of failure will only hold you back, with every new creation there are going to be flaws, with ever new challenge there is a chance you might not make it. Don’t take those as an opportunity to give up, see them as a tool to get better. Why ask someone to tell you where you need to improve, when your mistakes spell it out for you clear as day. Anyone who is successful has built their success on a foundation of failure.

Go out there and really challenge yourself, put the axe to the grind stone and push yourself every day. Only then will you create something that will leave its mark on the world.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, 13 November 2014

[Tabletop Musings] The RPG Wall

Back when I was in middle school I began to hear about Dungeons and dragons. Being the type of kid who likes board games and medieval fantasy, this seemed right up my alley. I looked at it and saw a board game in which characters persisted match to match.  To 12 year old me, this sounded awesome! I began to look into what was needed to play. It was tough because back then most of the TRPG products on sale at my local game store had the DnD name slapped on them, making it hard to figure out exactly what I needed. Eventually I was pointed towards the D&D red box. With the box being too expensive for my ten year old allowance, I wouldn’t get the game until my birthday.

There I was, a fresh faced 13 year old, trying to make heads or tails of Dungeons and Dragons. I was able to decipher the rules mechanically, but any time I tried to play the sessions just fell apart. There were a lot of aspects about the game that we had just never seen before. Things like Game Masters, and role-playing were completely foreign to us and after a few more attempts I gave up, letting the game gather dust in my closet.

It wasn’t until the following year that I tried an RPG again. Another student at my school tried to get a group together to play a tabletop RPG after class. Most of the kids who attended only knew about D&D through its depictions in media. The GM however, didn’t have a rules system, miniatures or a map. He ran a strictly theatre of the mind game in with a strong focus on role-play. The players were given total freedom, and whenever there was a conflict he rolled a d20 and told us if we passed or failed. This game only lasted a few sessions, as we the players weren’t exactly sure what the goal of the game was. Also with the lack of rules and total freedom, character actions began to border on the ridiculous.

By this point I had two very different experiences with tabletop RPGs, neither of them very successful. I went on for a number of years without giving the medium another chance, choosing instead to stick to my video and board games. In high school however, my interest in tabletop RPGs began to rise and I was looking to give them another shot. I downloaded the PDFs for the core D&D books and began to read through them, doing my very best to get a good understanding of how to play. After a week or so of studying the rules in my spare time, I still wasn’t sure how to run a game. So I began to ask around, to see if anyone at my school knew how to be a Game Master. Although my search for a GM was unfruitful, I did find a lot of people who had always wanted to try D&D but have never known how. Not confident enough in my own GMing ability I wasn’t willing start a group at the school. Instead I looked online, and it wasn’t too long till I found a local gaming group who played on Friday nights. I contacted them, and they were gracious enough to let me join. The group was made up of guys in their thirties who had been play tabletop RPGs since they were in high school. These guys were veterans of the medium, and even though there was a lot I didn’t know they were willing to teach me. I played with this group for many years, learning a lot of the subtle and unspoken rules of tabletop RPGs, as well as trying my hand at a large assortment of games and characters.

Now you may be asking yourself, why am I sharing this story? Well it’s to prove a point.  Tabletop RPGs are a very unapproachable as a medium. Here I was, a kid who was willing and eager to get into this hobby, but with so few resources to help me. There are a large amount of rules and nuances that are just not addressed within the majority of rulebooks. All these little techniques build up to a large wall of misunderstanding for a beginning player. This junction becomes even more apparent when we see that the majority of players were taught how to play tabletop RPGs by someone who has been playing them for many years. There is a lot added to tabletop RPGs, things beyond the basic rules that people within this hobby have developed and practiced over the past 40 years. Unless you are able to experience it first hand, or talk to someone who has, it is impossibly hard to play a tabletop RPG.

But this topic isn't all doom and gloom, with the widespread nature of YouTube, podcasts, forums and blogs there is a great well of resources available for players to see these techniques in action. The fact that I can go and watch someone play an RPG online allows me to see these techniques used in real time, providing a great educational tool for new players. But play sessions aren’t the only resource that has become available. These nuances have begun to be looked at in an academic light, allowing for a better understanding of the intuitive nature of RPGs.  Rickard on the story games forums has actually done a great job of highlighting these implicit practices as well as explaining them in depth. I strongly recommend that anyone who is looking to design games gives that thread a read. It is chalk full of great information and is updated often. I do also feel that some responsibility needs to fall onto the designers as well. We already have a brief section on how to play a role-playing game in pretty much any book, but this section merely skims the surface.  I believe that its something that should be expanded to the extent that a player, who has never played or seen an RPG before knows how to play the game. No other game medium does this, you don’t see board games that skim over the rules and expect the players to fill in the blanks, why should RPGs be any different.

The interest is there, people of all ages are exposed to the idea of tabletop RPGs through the media they consume. There interest is peaked, they want to play, we just need to let them. If we make this medium as approachable as video or board games, we could reach an audience greater than this industry could have ever imagined.

Thanks for ready,


If you would like to suggest topics for future posts, you can use the form on the right hand side to email me directly. You can also stay up to date on my latest projects and posts by following me on Twitter or Google +

Thursday, 6 November 2014

[Design Talk] Reward Systems Within Your Game

Hello World,

I have heard it said that games are like mind control. They convince somebody to overcome unnecessary obstacles and act in an anomalous manner. From the view of an onlooker it would seem as though a gamer was crazy. Why would any sane person spend their already limited time and money, doing extra work in which there is no apparent reward?  To most gamers the innate gut reaction to this kind of question is because games are ‘fun’, but why is a game fun?

 At their core games are built on rewards. The medium has been engineered over the decades to be as engaging and fulfilling as possible.  Everything from the thrill of overcoming a boss, to the challenge of figuring out a puzzle are all activities which are innately satisfying. Although games are built on reward systems it is very important as a designer to implement them effectively into your game. And this first step to doing that is to understand the two types of rewards, extrinsic and intrinsic.

Extrinsic rewards are some kind of payment received for performing a task. While generally referring to physical payouts, such as money in a poker game, or a salary at a job, games most capitalize on this phenomenon through in game rewards. Think about all those times you have grinded in a game to get the best gear, or unlock the next part of the story.  In a game like Dungeons and Dragons, these extrinsic rewards are seen in the form of items, gold and experience. Loot and XP may not be the only reason you risk your characters life exploring ancient ruins, but it sure as hell helps.

Intrinsic rewards on the other hand are rewards that come from within the action itself. These often take the form of psychological and chemical rewards within our own body. Examples of this are the camaraderie of spending time with friends,  the hope of being successful or feeling a part of something bigger. In short, intrinsic rewards are when the act of playing the game is its own reward.  This style of reward, while harder to create within a game, has a much more lasting effect on the player. It should be the goal of the designer to have every aspect of play be as intrinsically rewarding as possible. This is however much easier said than done, especially in tabletop games.

In a good video game, everything is working together to make that moment as intrinsically rewarding as possible, everything from the music, to the atmosphere, to the in game mechanics.  The developer acts almost as a conductor making these elements all come together to create one experience. This makes it much easier for the game to illicit intrinsic rewards on its own merits, rather than depend on how the player is feeling at that moment. Tabletop games on the other hand are a much more variable medium. The way in which one group runs a game could be completely different to the way another group approaches it. In either scenario, it is the group itself that has the largest bearing on the intrinsic rewards, rather than the system. I believe this is where the whole “System Doesn’t Matter” mentality comes from. That isn’t to say that systems can deliver their own intrinsic rewards, but these rewards are best received when approaching the game from a specific mindset.  I have seen no better example of this than Dungeons and Dragons. DnD is the most intrinsically rewarding when you play the game as a combat heavy dungeon crawler. While plenty of groups have lots of fun playing the game outside this niche, their intrinsic rewards are coming from the group itself.

One of the most effective tools I have found for managing reward systems is to have your extrinsic rewards encourage players to get into the mindset required to fully engage with the game’s intrinsic rewards. When you are creating your game you know the mindset you want your players to be in. You have a clear vision of how a session plays out, how the players act, the types of the decisions they make. While it isn’t possible for all players to be in that mental state all the time, you can encourage them to be in it as much as possible. A good way to do this is to make playing in the right mindset the best strategy for playing the game. If you look at Planet Crashers, I designed the game to be enjoyed in a comedic, beer and pretzels mentality. To encourage this style of play, I gave the players a better chance of success if they acted in comedic and cliché ways. This encourages the players to get into the right mindset to fully enjoy the game.

Some possible methods to implement extrinsic rewards are as follows. 
  • Character Advancement
  • Mechanical bonuses to actions
  • Recovery of resources
  • Loot

Although all of these methods and more can be implemented into your game, it is important to consider what kind of behaviors you are encouraging. Try to align encouraged play with the game’s most engaging play. If the best way to get loot and XP is to go dungeon crawling, your players will want to go dungeon crawling.

If you have any examples of how you have used extrinsic and intrinsic rewards , or have suggestions for future topics send me a message using the contact form on the right hand side!

And as always, Thanks for reading.


To stay up to date on my latest projects and musings follow me on Twitter and Google+

Thursday, 30 October 2014

[Guest Post] Marker Jones - What I Learned Developing Worlds of Rage

Hello World,

A few weeks ago I was got the chance to talk with Marker Jones, Creator of the Worlds of Rage RPG. In our discussions I got to learn about Marker’s experience in publishing and his development process. I really wanted to pass on this information with you all and figured who better to share the games development story than the author himself. Marker jumped on the offer to share his story, and hastily sent me in a monolith of a story, about every step of this 5 year publishing story. What follows is what he sent me, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.


As with all things, we begin with a first step.

Hello, my name is Marker Jones. I am the writer of "Worlds of Rage," a brand new role-playing experience from United Sight studios, and the lead developer of the task resolution mechanic the game uses (likely the same dice mechanic all our games will use).

It's been a long time coming, as you, aspiring game designers, are about to find out. I began this project with a partner who left on good terms resting the whole thing squarely in my lap. Admittedly it sat there a few years collecting dust while I flirted with the idea of writing a novel or screenplay or anything that would get my name out in the world. In this time, I was running games, countless games; Battlestar Galactica, Vampire the Masquerade, Mage the Ascension, TMNT, Rifts, Beyond the Supernatural, Dragonlance, anything to give me that good game high I had experienced so many times before.

Creating my own RPG, I knew a few things before I even started typing. This would be science fiction, but it would have nothing to do with any previous IP with the word "Star" in the title; I went so far as to avoid the word for my title. It would have some of the usual trappings of an RPG such as some system of magic, but it could not be like anything ever seen before in game or movie. Finally, since I was very heavily playing every RPG I could get my hands on those days, it had to have something no other RPG ever had, and there had to be a solid story reason for this creation.

"Worlds of Rage" began as a street with two clubs and two competing crime lords. In an attempt to make it original, I dealt primarily street level storylines involving crime, treachery, extortion. Other planets were mentioned but rarely visited. We had an ongoing storyline of two competing criminals and the people caught in the struggle. It was fun, but limited. I had to expand more.

Enter the religions. I couldn't bring myself to have any kind of Judeo Christian religion in a world I had already said had no connection to the world those type religions had come from. The end result was a mix of Christian, Jewish and Jehovah's Witnesses belief systems but done in such a way to make sense in the back story of the game. It was a simple story of an omnipotent creator based on my upbringing in the Catholic faith, but I wanted a mixed connection/opposition between religion and science believing that would add drama. This gave me the antagonist I needed to keep religion on its toes.

While I was writing and creating (and recreating), I was keeping an eye open for a publisher. I knew I didn't want to sell to one of the established companies as I wanted to own my work. The best way for me to retain ownership of the property I had struggled to get into print, I soon found, was the print on demand market.

Print on demand is a new kind of creature, but yet it seems tailor made for the role-playing industry. We are creative people to begin with, and more than likely computer savvy. Print on demand services allow us to showcase our abilities a number of ways; writing, graphic design, desktop publishing, web design, etc. It's as if the digital world reached out to us, invited us into a tight embrace and asked what it can do to help. There I was with arms extended looking for my chance to etch my name in the stone of RPG history.

I soon discovered how valuable a tool constant research was. Not only was I looking up various publication channels, but I was also doing research on technology to get a sound idea where the advanced tech of my world(s) would be. Most important, it had to look right, it had to look plausible, it had to seem like these people would have naturally gravitated towards this tech. To do this, I studied a lot about where technology came from and how it evolved in our world.

History gave me more ideas than almost anything else. When designing your own world from scratch, why not research on our home planet and what happened in each stage of evolution? This got me looking at the races involved in my game. I suddenly had a model to work with, a way to decide where each race came from. The Limthrakk, the orange skinned nobles, see themselves as the Creator's chosen, the one the others should look up to. Their culture was based on Asian culture and history. The Groon are seen as savage and brutal by the other races, but they are nothing of the sort, they just don't think those that look down on them need to know just how beautiful their culture really is. They were heavily based on Native American tribes. This process continued with the other races.

I spent the most time deciding what classes would go into my game. I started out with classes whose sole defining characteristic was summed up in a few words, often the name of the class. It soon came to me that these class names were looking more like skills; thief, assassin, fighter with bladed weaponry, mystic, etc. I own the fact that a lot of "Worlds of Rage" is inspired by fantasy RPG's, but I could not see a place in my high technology science-fiction worlds for a healer or an arena fighter. However, a soldier who was only ever good at fighting and decided to increase his already wondrous skills with the addition of cybernetics to the point of facing a growing addiction to cybernetic implants? That had promise.

And soon other classes were inspired. An offshoot of one of the terrorist organizations that pledged a life of nonviolent social demonstrations focused on corporate espionage and activism. Priests that had to train heavily in combat with bladed weapons as they were going to do missionary work in some of the most dangerous places in the galaxy. Bodyguards who would self-administer poisons to build up an immunity and get a taste for them so that they could not only survive the effects but identify the substances in an employer's food (which also had the added benefit of making them quite adept at administering poisons themselves). These were the kind of morally ambiguous classes I was going for.

Alignment became a thing of the past. If you are creating characters that normally act outside the line on an average business day, why incorporate a system of alignment that would penalize them for doing the very thing they were buying skill points to do? Ridding myself of an alignment system got me looking at other mechanics of RPGs we have grown accustomed to.

I discovered a growing disdain for experience points. How is an encounter judged in such a way that one encounter is a higher threat than another? A large stampeding monster could be reduced to a blathering idiot if dice rolls were not going your way, and a low level pickpocket could ruin your day if he took your knife out of your pocket and stabbed you with it before robbing you and walking off, all in a time span of about 15 seconds with an amazing roll. So "Encounters" no longer had a numerical value, rather the skills that you roll increase themselves through repeated successful use. This not only rewarded the soldiers in combat, but also the engineers who repaired the ship, the technician that fixed the equipment, the ambassador that was able to use words to avoid a fight.

I am in no way an artist, and any RPG is judged on the quality of its art. Since I was self-financing this, I wanted to save the lion's share of the money for publication, so sacrifices had to be made. It took me 7 years to find an artist that could produce good art for a price I could afford. Anyone near to me was offering comic book quality artwork but for well over $100 per illustration. Thanks to researching options online I found a good quality artist at a more reasonable rate ( helped out wonderfully here). For the front cover, I tapped the friend of a friend who was a local tattoo artist and very interested in the project. This same artist is still producing content for me and negotiating a contract to work on future titles.

I had found my publisher in the form of CreateSpace, a publishing house owned by Amazon. I jumped at the chance to work with them, not only for brand recognition but also because this meant my RPG would be available on the Kindle. I've seen a good amount of digital role players as of late; you know them, the gamers that have either their laptop or tablet at the table. Technology has allowed us the chance to carry dozens of books to the gaming table in only one hand. I wanted to be a part of this, and was able to do so, thankfully, and not just with the Kindle but also drivethrurpg, which is another amazing resource for aspiring designers.

Ah, marketing. The total dominance of the internet has made marketing a double-edged sword; you would think it is easy given how accessible the entire world is now, but be careful for you can accidentally use these resources incorrectly and alienate potential customers. I did a Reddit AMA (ask me anything), created social media pages, a wordpress site, a twitter account, a Google+ page, had friends talk me up on social media, etc. It helped a bit. I got a lot more traction once I learned to use Roll20 and Skype. The online role playing community - and this includes online gaming conventions such as Virtuacon and Aethercon - allowed me to get my name out there and to introduce people in other state and other countries to my work. Once players saw it in action, they were more inclined to look it over.

My wordpress site has a beta test copy of the rules available. I would suggest this to any designer. The professional designers make their SRDs (system reference documents) available to consumers online, and your beta test rules can be the same thing. Also, it serves as a text for possible play testing, which is important, but also more honest if you can get people to play test it in your absence, and to find play testers who are not related to you. We all start running our games for our friends, but it's when people who do not know you try your game for the first time that the real issues start to show themselves. 

Don't settle for online, get out in the world and play it also. Your local gaming store is a good start, but absolutely go to conventions; go to a lot of conventions, go out of your way to go to conventions, go to each one you can find and afford to go to. Get the word out there. Let people you have never met before know about your game. Do demos wherever you can. Post demos online and let strangers find them on YouTube at 3 o'clock in the morning.

This has been a labor of love for me, and that is the complete truth. I have gone at this mostly on my own - not out of choice, out of circumstance. I was, however, fortunate to be able to realize this goal without having to Kickstart it (I never thought it would be beneficial to be a married gamer, but I was proven wrong on this).

Good luck, designers. I hope to see your products soon on the shelves of my local bookstore.


I would like to thank Marker for his post, and if you you would like to learn more about Worlds of Rage you can check out Markers Wordpress, or you can find the game on Amazon and Drive Through RPG.

before I end off this article I would like to make a quick announcement to all of my readers! I want to hear from you, use the contact form to the right of this article and let me know what you want to see in future posts. I love writing this blog, and with your help we can make it something great.

And as always, thanks for reading,


Thursday, 23 October 2014

Blog Updates And Scheduling Changes

Hello World,

With the recent success of Planet Crashers I have decided to formalize this blog in order to better serve my readers. Those who are returning readers may notice plenty of design and layout changes as well as a bunch of new features. But before I get into explaining that I would first like to make an announcement.

My Tabletop Journey will now be scheduling its content releases. From now on you can expect a new post every Thursday.

It is my hope that this will allow me to provide regular content for my viewers.

With that established, I can get into the new features of the blog. It was my goal with these changes to be as accessible as possible. The first major tool I have added is a contact box on the right side bar.  This will allow you the reader to ask me questions as well as suggest topics for future posts. I can’t wait for all of the great suggestions you will all bring for future content.

The other tool I have added is a real time twitter feed. This is to allow viewers to see my recent activity outside the blog, as well as act as an easy method to tweet at or follow me.

I hope to hear from all of you in the future. Without people to read my content and play my games, I would have no hope of become a game designer.

Thanks for reading, Really…


If you wish to receive play test document as they are released feel free to sign up as a play tester on the right hand side. You can also stay up to date on blog posts by following me on Google+. or Twitter.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

48 Hour RPG - What I Learned

Hello World,

For those who are not aware, during this past weekend I challenged myself to make a complete RPG in a 48 hour timespan. Out of that weekend came the Planet Crashers RPG, a game which pits players against the GM in an over the top galactic outlaw hunt.  I had a blast making it and I hope you guys have as much fun playing it. If you are interested in giving it a read or playing it yourself, the free PDF can be downloaded from the following link.

Download Planet Crashers HERE
Cover art courtesy of Meryn Mercer

But that announcement isn’t my only reason for this post.  As some of you may know, on this blog I strive to share what I learn about game design to all of you. With Planet Crashers’ creation still fresh in my mind, it seems like the perfect time to reflect upon what I learned from the whole experience as well as a bit about my design process.

I would first like to state that this endeavor, while being tough, was an amazing insight to me as a developer. It forces you to go through the entire design process in a very short amount of time, letting you see all of the little connections and dependencies between every phase of development. I encourage every novice developer to try their hand at a 24 or 48 hour game design jam. Even if you aren't able to finish a game, I guarantee you will learn tons.

As for what I learned from Planet Crashers, I like to sum it up in one simple line

“Constraints breed creativity”

This is true in all mediums, even game design. When I started the marathon my mind was whizzing with ideas, going in every which direction, but it wasn’t until I set my constraints that a game began to get designed. One of the most effective methods I have found to figuring out my constraints was to visualize how the game would be played.

The initial visualization for Planet Crashers was a one shot system about an over the top space crew. From that initial idea I got a few key constraints, and I was able to refine my intended play by looking at the next major part of gameplay, who is your ideal player. This part relies heavily on an article I did a while back called “Design Talk: Know You Audience”, for those who haven’t read it, the article discussed two distinct taxonomies for looking at your intended audience. The first is the GNS theory which states there are three mindsets a player can experience when playing a tabletop RPG, Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist. While the other method of classification looks at the aesthetics of play, and breaks any game experience into 8 separate categories, Challenge, Fantasy, Fellowship, Sensation, Narrative, Discovery, Expression, Submission.

The way I like to go about this is to choose one of the GNS mindsets to focus on as the style of play I want to engage  the most within my players. In Planet Crashers, I decided to focus on the Gamist mindset. One of the best ways to encourage and reward Gamist style play is, having clear goals, competition between players and rewarding clever choices. When reading through Planet Crashers it is clear to see where that choice influenced the design.

Now for the aesthetics of play I like to look at and rank the top three aesthetics I want to stimulate within the game. Planet Crasher’s aesthetic ranking was as follows.

1. Challenge
2. Fellowship
3. Fantasy

With those two classifications figured out, I have a pretty good idea on how playing Planet Crashers should feel. With those constraints set I had a direction, and whenever I wasn’t sure if I should put a mechanic into the game I just asked “how does the mechanic enhance the imagined play?” Knowing who would want to play this game, and how they would play it led the game to be much more unified.

Another resource which I have found very helpful for planning out my games is Troy Costisick’s “The Power 19”. A 19 question outline that lays out the foundation for what your game is going to become. It is a fantastic resource and I encourage designers to give it a try. A link to it can be found HERE.

There is one last concept I would like to mention about the power of rewards. If there is a specific way you want players to act or play within your game, it is important that the game rewards them for that. Planet Crashers is intended to be a comedic and silly space adventure. As such one of the design problems I came across is, how do you make a game comedic? The method I found most effective for this is to reward players for being funny. The entire “Trope” mechanic was introduced into the game to reward players for fun and comedic roleplaying. This one introduced mechanic shifts the whole style of play, and it is all because players now get rewarded for playing in a comedic manner. I could go on and on about effective use of reward systems in RPGs but I will save that for my next Design Talk post.

For now though, try to understand who will be playing your game, and how it will be played. With that figured out you can begin to constrain you game in order to design a unified play experience. I wish all of you the best of luck with you future gaming projects and as always,

Thanks for reading


If you wish to receive play test document as they are released feel free to sign up as a play tester on the right hand side. You can also stay up to date on blog posts by following me on Google+. or Twitter.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Development Update: October 2014

Hello World,

Although I have been rather quiet for the past few weeks it has not been in vain. Over this past week I successfully ran my first public beta test of Consortia at Virtuacon. I had a blast running it and I would like to thank all of the players who came out to play test the system, I learned a lot from each of you.  This test marks the first time Consortia has been played outside my internal group and it did better than I could have imagined. With this new found success I would like to begin taking Consortia even further, getting input from a vast population of players from all gaming backgrounds. As such, I will be looking to both expand my internal group and run a more one shots/ campaigns over the next few months.  If you interested in play testing the system feel free to contact me at with you name and gaming history/preferences and we will try to find a game for you to join.

I also have a few more big announcements for content coming out over the next week or so.

First off I am pleased to announce Marker Jones, creator of the “Worlds of Rage” Tabletop RPG will be making a guest post on this blog in the upcoming week. Within his post Mark will discuss his 5 year journey to publish his own tabletop RPG as well as share what he has learned along the way. It is sure to be an informative post so be sure to catch that next Wednesday.

I would also like to take this time to announce that I will be challenging myself to create a 48 hour RPG this weekend. Within this challenge I will design, create and release a complete RPG over the course of two days. This RPG will then be posted onto, for those interested in giving it a read. I have chosen to undertake this challenge to both test my skills as a developer as well as get some design Ideas off my mind.

This next week will prove to be very jam packed and interesting to be sure and you can keep up to date on my 48 hour RPG progress by following me on Twitter @MTTJ_Patrick. In the meantime though…

Thanks for reading,


If you wish to receive play test document as they are released feel free to sign up as a play tester on the right hand side. You can also stay up to date on blog posts by following me on Google+. or Twitter.

Monday, 29 September 2014

10 Ways to Improve Your Game by Achieving Flow

Hello World,

While reading Jane Mcgonigal’s “Reality is Broken” I tried to connect each of the arguments she made to tabletop games and RPG design. It was working relatively well until McGonigal began talking about flow. For those who don’t know, flow is the state of being completely engaged in the action currently being performed. It is often referred to as being in the zone, and is depicted as the pinnacle of game engagement. Many video games today capitalize on flow, examples are Bullet hell games, Rhythm games, or my personal Favorite Super-Hexagon. My question is, can tabletop games elicit flow?

Mihaly Csikszentmihali, the man who coined the term flow describes it as occurring only when we are doing a difficult task which we are highly competent in. If our skill level is much higher than the task’s difficulty than we are left bored, but if our skill is much lower it can make us frustrated. This is explained rather eloquently in the below diagram.

But tabletop games have another element tossed in that make it a little bit harder, pretty much every tabletop game is played with other people. Although it is more difficult to achieve flow in a group, it is still possible.  Researcher R.Kieth Sawyer who worked with Csikszentmihali, did a large amount of research with group flow and produced 10 key factors to encourage flow within a team. In this article I will be going over each of his 10 postulates and expanding upon how each applies to tabletop games. I will also be giving some tips on how to improve flow in each of these areas. If you are interested in reading about his research HERE is a link to a good article on the matter.

Now on to the Postulates.

1.      A Clear Goal

All flow relies on the player working towards a clear goal, but with group flow it is important that each of the participating members is on the same page. This gets even more difficult due to the fact that people go to tabletop games for a multitude of different reasons. If one player wants gritty combat and another wants to role-play it is going to cause a conflict of interest. It is crucial that the entire group is interested in achieving the same thing.

As a DM running a game it can be very hard to find out what each player is interested in doing and achieving. One method which I find very helpful is to look for flags on player character sheets. A flag is any piece of information that the character has put time and resources into. For example if a player puts a bunch of points into his stealth skill, he wants the game to require his character to sneak around.

2.      Close Listening

Group members need to be able to listen as well as talk.  Listening also extends even further by encouraging members to take every idea and statement sincerely. Players are encouraged to do their best not to reject any ideas without discussion,  this goes double for the DM as they often have the most narrative agency.

If a player says “My character swings off the chandelier and lands on the table getting the high ground over his foe” and the DM never planned for the room to have a chandelier, unless it is going to badly disrupt the game, let him do it. Shutting down an idea really hinders the experience of flow and I encourage all DMs to be as flexible as possible. This leads me to my next point.

3.      Being in Control

If a group member feels like they don’t have a say in the group or that their ideas aren’t respected they are just going to get frustrated. Same goes for players, the more power the DM gives their players the easier it will be to achieve flow. Players have to feel like they have complete control of what their characters do, if not than they are just being told a story and playing a game.

My tip for this is similar to the last point. If a players wants something, do everything in your power to give it to them while maintaining the games integrity. To expand even further on this I encourage the group to trust each of the other members. This trust will lead to more willingness to share power.

4.      Keep it Moving Forward

The best way to keep the ball rolling is to not slam on the breaks. This is a rather common complaint I hear players having. They are having fun in the game, but then there is a rule which the group is uncertain about, so the game has to get paused so that the DM can flip through the rule book and find the proper ruling. This pause completely halts flow and makes it much harder to achieve engagement.

My best recommendation for this it to improvise when there is confusion on a ruling.  If you aren’t sure what would be fair to the players, choose an option that sways in their favor, I am sure they won’t be mad. Once the game is over then you can look up the ruling so you know for future, but try to keep the game going.

5.      Complete Concentration

With the advent of virtual tabletops it is easier than ever to get distracted during a game. The internet is a very tempting outlet for distraction, but it isn’t the only place distractions can be a problem. Most local games operate on a no cell phones at the table rule, this is due in part to it distracting players. Another more divided argument for distractions is the use of music in an RPG session. I am on the fence for this debate as I can see the benefits to both sides. In my opinion if music is done right it can greatly enhance engagement, but it is so easy for it to become disruptive it not controlled.

Another method to improve focus in a session is to skim over the mundane. It is a lot easier to tune out as players are shopping at a market, but if you are in a heated debate with an adversary, I doubt you want to look at your phone.

6.      Bending Egos

Each participant needs understand and accept that they aren’t the best part of the game, or that they need to be center stage all of the time. If you are set in your ways and have a plan for what you want your character to do, you miss the chance to expand upon another player’s ideas. An individual cannot steer a group, it will only lead to frustration for both parties.

It’s the ideas that are built upon by all members that are the most interesting and engaging.

7.      Equal Participation

All players need to feel as though they have agency and power within the group. If one player has too much or too little influence it begins more difficult for everyone to have fun. DMs should encourage players to influence the story and give them as much narrative power as possible. Another important aspect is to encourage players who don’t get involved with the game to get front and center. Focus a small arc of the game on their character or backstory to embolden them to act.

8.      Familiarity

This one can prove difficult for new DMs and players as being familiar with both the group and the system can really help with flow.  When you get to know a group you develop this unspoken language – psychologists call it Tacit. This unspoken language can really speed up the game allow for much more frequent moments of engagement. The familiarity with the rules also aids in the process because it allows for fast on the fly decisions without worrying about mechanics.

The best way to improve this is time, time to get to know your players and the game a bit better.

9.      Communication

The allowance for players to discuss ideas and work together to make decisions is crucial. Having every player involved on the choices allows each of them to feel like they accomplished the task as a team. If just 2 players do all the talking it isn’t much fun to all the others.

10.   The potential for failure

This one is crucial. If the group feels like there is nothing at stake then there is no reason for engagement. This is why bands don’t experience flow while rehearsing, it’s only when they step up on stage that they get “in the zone”. The best way to encourage this through play is to raise tensions and ensure that actions have opportunity cost.

Flow is the pinnacle of gaming engagement, although it can still be done, it is much more difficult to pull off in tabletop RPGs.  Hopefully these tips have helped you improve your games, as well as help with your designs.

Thanks for reading