Archive for June, 2011
What’s caught my attention recently:
- Robin Laws talks about “RPG Scenario Pro Tip: Triumphing Over Will“. He talks about how to punch up your adventure writing (and writing in general) by removing some words you’re probably using. When Robin talks about language or design, you’d do well to listen.
- Brad Murray on “Robots and Role-play“. He goes into some detail about taking ideas from the Mythic GM Emulator (which I was previously unaware of) and automated question-answering to an online process. It’s Brad, so of course it’s interesting from both an engineering standpoint and from a human psychology standpoint.
- Josh Roby muses on why “Steampunk is not a Genre“. This is relevant to me because of the steampunk game we’re working on together, Atlantis Risen, but it’s also got some things to say in general about the difference between genre, theme, motifs, etc.–as well as understanding how to produce what you’re working to emulate.
I’m going to be more rambly and self-indulgent today, with a touch of sentiment, because I want to talk about Dresden’s Origins Awards. Or, rather, I want to vocally process said awards.
If you’ve been following the RPG sphere, you’ve heard by now that the Dresden Files RPG won the Origins Award for Best RPG and Our World won for Best RPG Supplement. (Probably heard on Twitter or from the fine folks at Critical Hits.) I mentioned the nomination earlier, and feeling like we’re in respectable company.
You might want to read Rob Donoghue talk about it first, since he was there and all.
I couldn’t go to Origins this year — the “cash delta” (the cost of going plus the cost of not making any money on days I have to take off since I’m a freelancer) was too high. I pondered making it work, by taking just one day off, flying in Friday early to arrive in the afternoon (it’s a seven hour trip from California), staying until Sunday morning and flying back. But that just seemed insane, and my year for insane trips was 2010. So instead I was home, spending time with a dear friend, hanging at Endgame playing Pandemic, when I get the news.
I got a call from Lenny, Amanda & Clark, and we talked for a bit about it in amazement (and a bit about me being missed there). We hung up, and I went back to curing the world of all disease.
It hit me that winning the Origins Award feels about as real as playing a CDC agent flying through Milan dispensing cures. Which makes me right now think for a bit why that is. I’ve explained to friends before that when Dresden won Golden Geek awards, I felt like it was my friends winning awards for their book. And I’m proud of them; it’s not said with disrespect or bitterness.
When I look at Dresden, I can see the parts I wrote, parts I edited, parts where I made huge structural changes, things like that. I know the conversations that took place to forge it. It was a hell of an effort. But I also know it was a drop in the bucket compared to the work Lenny Balsera did retooling Fate after years of Spirit of the Century being out and played with. I know the huge amount of groundwork that Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue put into both Fate and the initial Dresden manuscripts. I know how indispensable Chad Underkoffler’s setting brain was to the project. Amanda Valentine’s prints are all over the thing, having edited us into clarity and consistency. Clark Valentine saved the book by doing a lot of eleventh hour work when the rest of us were stretched too thin elsewhere. Kenneth Hite, Genevieve Cogman, Adam Dray, and of course Jim Butcher are all also to thank for this product and this moment in time.
Probably sounds like I’m throwing around faux-humility here, but it’s not about that. It’s more like I see myself like the doctor that delivers a child. The child grows up to win awards, and that’s cool. I can be proud, but it’s not me winning the award. Turns out I’m not the only person on the Dresden team that feels like this. And that makes me think that maybe the delivery room doc analogy is almost apt. Except, I’m not to doctor. I’m one of the parents.
The Dresden Files RPG is the collective child of the seven of us: Fred, Rob, Lenny, Chad, Amanda & Clark, and me. (Along with our allies of Ken, Genevieve, Adam & Jim.) None of us really won the Origins Award. Instead, our kid did.
That’s pretty fucking cool. I’m proud of my kid. Our kid.
With that, I’ve gone from feeling disconnected from the award (and the Golden Geek, and awards for other things) to feeling the right emotional context around it. I wish I could have celebrated with most the rest of the crew there, to be in that moment where we were all stunned at what just happened. But I’ll take sharing in the somewhat befuddled glow that we have as parents of this book.
I’ll end by thanking the Academy of Adventure Game Arts and Design, those that voted at Origins, and especially our fans around the world. Our book–our kid–would not exist without your support. And in that way, it makes this award as much yours as it does mine. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
 Remember how I talked recently about people who complain about not having time? Clark has a demanding day job. He and Amanda have kids. And he still finds time to work. He makes the time, even if it’s minutes. He has discipline the likes of which I rarely see.
Over the last year, I’ve been watching how people talk about the things they buy. And watching Kickstarters, buzz about games on Twitter, things like that, here’s the breakdown I’ve got in my head:
People buy things because…
- they hear the product is good.
See the emphasis on “hear”? That’s buzz. It doesn’t have to do if the product is actually good, but if it’s talked about as being good. There’s a difference that has to do with target audience and buzz spread.
- they want to engage in a conversation.
This covers people talking about a game for good or bad reasons. This is part of the reason I buy Vincent Baker games — they get talked about so much by my friends & folks on the Internet that I have to read to keep up. This is also why people go to movies that nerds hate on — they want to engage in the conversation about said hate.
- they want to engage in a subculture.
This is like the above, only wider. Works that are seen as formative in a subculture are often bought for this reason. It’s part of why some of the older indie/story game titles continue to sell.
- they want to support someone.
People will buy to support someone they like, even if the product itself isn’t terribly interesting to them. This is especially true I think of Kickstarters. There are some people I’ve contributed to where the product hasn’t turned me on, but the people seem cool so I wanted to support.
- they have bought into a brand.
People buy things because they have prior good experiences with a brand. Sometimes this results in sight-unseen purchases. I used to do this with anything Kenneth Hite wrote. (These days I don’t because my funds are stretched all over the place, but when Ken writes something it goes high on my consideration list.)
- they have bought into a cult of personality.
This is the more toxic version of above, and it happens often. It’s where rabid, unthinking fandom lives. That said, good money if you can make it happen, because people will forgive and excuse your faults when you reach that state.
- they are buying a story about themselves.
And this is the biggest one. This is a big reason why people buy limited editions and the higher end of Kickstarters. People like to tell stories about themselves, both to other people and to them internally.
I’ll tell you a story about the last one (that I think I’ve told before, but I tell it often enough to illustrate the point that I can’t remember where I’ve told it.) I was at a talk a year ago, when an artist was discussing her work. I won’t go much into that talk specifically, but when she was done, she said she had one of the ten prints here with her for sale. It was a couple hundred bucks, and back then I was a but flush. I liked her story, and I was struck with the desire to buy into that story.
With my phone in hand, I went up to her to buy the print. I asked if I could PayPal, and she looked iffy. Then I said “No, right now. I have PayPal on my phone.” She was amazed at this moment of technology. We exchanged money, and the story grew in that moment where I was the first person to e-pay her while physically present. I bought a neat piece of art with a story behind it, but what I really bought was a story that happens to also be represented by a piece of art.
None of those above are inherently bad (except probably the cult of personality). But they’re interesting, and if you’re selling, you should understand why people buy. Because to me, it doesn’t match with the priorities of a creator.
Speaking of, are there any I missed?
(This is for my friend, Matt T. And for y’all, but especially him.)
I’ve noticed a trend in my life: I end up seeing some out-of-town friends more often than in-town friends. Why? Because with out-of-town friends, time is more precious and so planning happens, as does committing to follow-through. With in-town friends, we can always see each other, so vague and cancellable plans happen. This isn’t because people are horrible, but because life is full on random, busy shit. When something comes up, you might want to ask “hey, can we meet up next week?” With out-of-town friends, it’s a definite no. With in-town ones, it’s more likely yes. So a busy life gets to impact plans that can be remade.
(Of course, once you need to see a friend, the plans stop being vague and cancellable.)
Writing is similar. When you can put off writing, it’s easy to do. “Crap, I’m not feeling well. I can write later.” “Man, I have a ton of chores that should get done. I can write. later” “Tim & Lisa feel like grabbing a movie, and I haven’t seen them in a bit. I can write later.” Etc. etc.
One excuse on its own isn’t the problem, but when you constantly reschedule your writing time–time that can also was “yes” to “can we do it later?”–then you’re running into the same problem as with me meeting up with in-town friends.
I often hear people say “man, if I didn’t have a day job, I could get so much writing done.” And every time I hear it, I ask them when they last wrote. If it not yesterday or the day before, I tell them they’re full of shit. They won’t get more writing down when they leave a day job. Once you have a space where you have more time to write, if you’re used to giving yourself excuses to not write, you’ll just keep giving excuses–because you have more time in the day to put off writing.
“Oh, I should go shopping for groceries. I can write later.” “I haven’t watched the new Colbert Report. I can write later.” “It’s a nice day for a walk. I can write later.” Etc. etc.
If you can’t give yourself thirty minutes a day to write, saying “fuck it, this is what I’m doing,” then you aren’t ready to give yourself eight, ten, twelve hours to write. Before talking about the hellish parts of the business like taxes and chasing down jobs & payment, before talking about how little pay you’ll make and the insane cost of health insurance, the reality is: if you aren’t writing now, you won’t write then.
But there’s hope. The day job brings with it a structure to your day — maybe it changes week to week, but there’s some structure. Use that structure. Commit to writing. If you can do that until it becomes second nature, if you can say to yourself “fuck, I haven’t watched the new Colbert Report. I’ll get some writing done for half an hour and then watch it,” then you’re closer to the point where you can ditch your day job–if that’s what you want.
If you aren’t constantly writing, but that’s where you want to be, keep your day job. It’ll train you to find all sorts of time in the day to write. It’ll make you a fierce wordsmith. Because if you aren’t writing, it’s not your day job holding you back. It’s your lack of commitment and follow-through.
P.S. Of course, if you won’t be keeping your day job for other reasons, like being laid off, my comments still stand. You’ll have to do the difficult thing of learning how to give yourself structure. From experience, I know that’s hard when you’re used to others imposing that structure on you.
Last night, Josh Roby and I ended up spontaneously podcasting with the ever-charming Tim Rodriguez of the fine podcast Dice + Food + Lodging. Josh and I talked about playtesting — how we go about it, what we’re looking for, pitfalls we’ve dealt with, and lessons we’ve learned.
The episode. It’s 25 minutes long. Josh was on shortly before recording a game we’re designing, Atlantis Risen, and I stopped partway through my commute in order to talk. (If you’re curious where I recorded from, outside The Ferry Building in San Francisco [image]. It’s the stop between the first and second third of my commute home.)
Was a good talk, even if I ended up talking more than Josh. He and I have very different environments: he has a dedicated playtest group that is trained the way people who do writing or art critiques are trained. I travel to conventions and constantly playtest with new people. Both are awesome, as they generate different experiences and feedback.
Apologies for the lack of Fate content. I have one more bullet point, though I’m unlikely to blog tomorrow, as I’m going on an Origins-methadone vacation. :) But that’s what next week is for!
 Which has no website yet.