An Accounting of Half-Done Projects

People like me will always stop to write some notes down about a new idea. It’s how we sleep. By doing that, it frees the mind from being occupied on trying to remember this idea. This is something I mentioned last year: open loops. Sometimes, it leads to a couple pages of an idea that never get touched again. Other times, that merely sparks the flame of a bigger project.

But we are people of finite resources: time, energy, the patience of friends to playtest, and so on. So some of these go from a couple notes to “being halfway done.”

Being Halfway Done

In a world of progress bars, you shouldn’t think of a creative project being “halfway done” as “50% of the work is done, and if I apply this same amount again it will be done.” Here, a (perhaps inaccurate) take on Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox can be applied to show the truth such of creative project:

For a project to be 100% completed, first it must be 50% completed. Then what you’re left with is a new project: finishing what’s left. For  that to be 100% completed, first it must be 50% completed, and for some damn reason that will take as long as the original 50%. Then you’re left with a new project: finishing what’s left. For that to be completed, first it must by 50% completed, and for some damn reason it will still take as long as the original 50%. And so on. Take every increment of Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox and assume each one takes roughly the same amount of time, no matter now much work you’ve covered.

(For the math-disinclined, I’m saying that the first half will take just as long as the next quarter, which will take just as long as the next eighth, etc.)

The reason this feels legit is that when we get to a point that we feel is “halfway done,” there’s a combination of overconfidence and inability to foretell future troubles that means we’re actually less far than we think. It also feels legit because we finish projects, not complete them — I wouldn’t say any RPG I’ve worked on was ever fully completed when it left, because to do that would take an infinite amount of time. Eventually, you cut it loose and have it fly. There are still things to this day I find about Mythender, and Fate Core, hell about Dresden Files or occasionally A Penny For My Thoughts that I wish we could go back and tweak.

That, and each stage of the project has its own hurdles: design, writing, editing, layout, etc. And all that playtesting.

The Accounting

I promised an accounting. These are project on my Big List of Personal Stuff. 2013 has been a year where I’ve done stuff for other people: my day job at Paizo, the Technocracy books, small freelance projects (editing and writing), working on Achtung! Cthulhu’s Fate Core version, and so on. Oh, and I got Mythender out, twice even! (It took so, so much longer than I expected to get it ready for POD that, well, it confirms to me the above bit about time and project stages. Especially the art bits.) So I’ve been adept at actually finishing things lately, but it also means to unwind, I let my mind explore other things by sitting down and writing notes.

What you’re going to see is everything that I have in my (virtual and physical) note pile. Sometimes I’m hesitant to tell people what I’m noodling on because, invariably, someone says “SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!” That’s cool and all, and I get excited when I see people keen on what I’m fucking around with, but it can put a pressure on me to take an idea farther than I personally need it to. Anyway, on with the damn list! :D

Caveat the First: I make absolutely no promises that I will finish these. In fact, I guarantee you that I won’t all of them, and might some of them. And by “finish,” I might just mean “do enough to release it for free and let others run with it.”

Caveat the Second: Life, free time, etc. is demanding, and I’m getting married in late 2014. And these are just the fully indie projects, not stuff I’m contractually doing for others.

Caveat the Third: I’m not asking for suggestions or help here. That would, in fact, possibly overwhelm me right now, given how many things I’m about to list.

Caveat the Fourth: None of this will be inherently accurate in a month. I might decide that HK-TK is, for instance, better using a diceless dance-based system in a couple months. (But probably not. If there’s dancing then I also want dice to determine the form of dance.)

Caveat the Fifth: These things usually get pushed to the back burner when freelance work happens. I try to carve some time every week or so to work on one of these, so that I have some creative outlet, but these won’t pay the bills. Nature of speculation work and all that.

The Mythender Spin-Offs

Mythender Reborn is my oldest idea for a Mythender sequel. The tagline has been, for years, “The gods have returned. So must their executioners.”  Mythender is already heavily inspired by Nobilis — the Mythenders are Excrusians — but this takes it to the current day. Last week, the Mythic World resurfaced, just in your town or city. Some citizens became gods. Yesterday, you became something else, a Mythender. But whereas Mythender is about wandering badasses independent of community, this is the game about Mythenders in a community. I have many, many notes about it, an outline in Scrivener. The Hurdle: Making community rules for Mythender has proven daunting.

Mythender Aftermath is just a couple notes on paper, about a diceless Mythender game that’s about what happens after all of the gods are ended and the Mythic World crumbles around the Mythenders. It’s the game where the Mythenders are trying to shed their powers and avoid rekindling the Mythic World by ascending. The Lesser Myths of the world still exist, though they are dying, and know that if they can push a Mythender over the edge, their kind will not only live, but once again rule. The Hurdle: This isn’t even “halfway done,” so the entire project is a hurdle. It might just be a cute idea.

“Norden World” is a Dungeon World hack about mortals in in the Mythic World fighting to save their people from an icy prison. Weirdly, and perhaps because it’s a hack and I’ve been playing with Dungeon World’s design for years, it genuinely feels like the design is halfway done. The Hurdle: making something that works for replacing the community-oriented functions in DW, like resupplying. Reskinning things like race and alignment. Writing up the world and the sense of adventure progression — which isn’t writing an adventure, because it’s writing a framework of events and fronts.

Mythender Golarion is the Mythender hack for Pathfinder’s Golarion world. All those gods got faces, which is the main rule for making Mythender work. I’ve been noting down stuff with John Compton (the Pathfinder Society developer) after he played Mythender the other week. We’ve got notes about making Hearts based on the paths from Mythic Adventures, Fates tied into alignments, and some universal questions — an idea I hadn’t thought of until we had lunch and wrote them down. The Hurdle: really, this one is just time. And it’ll be a community license thing, as a fan project rather than one I’m even entertaining trying to sell. So, it’s just a fun thing.

Other RPGs (Not RPGs)

Emerging Threats Unit is my next big, possibly Mythender-sized game. It’s my “Imagine if Delta Green were run by the CDC” game. It’s action-horror, playing with an emerging mythos rather than a set one that all the players know about, where characters are competent but danger is still real. I’m happy with the base mechanics, but it needs more work. If I was smart, and on occasion I am, I would work on this enough to be a playtest draft, and let it out to folks for a bit while I work on smaller projects. The Hurdle: I fear the work involved, because I know how much it took to make Mythender work. And I don’t have the larger sense of mechanics figured out. (If I do another Kickstarter, it’ll be for this.)

HK-TK is about my love of the movie Push. Right now, I’m thinking about using the underpinnings of Will Hindmarch’s Always/Never/Now to work for underworld psychics rather than for cyberpunk. I’ve written up the initial PCs at the high-level view. The Hurdle: I am avoiding the Scenario File right now for spoilers, because there’s been promises of a friend running A/N/N for me, which based of scheduling has yet to materialize.

Teardrop in the Sand is my game about a fantastical land that…well, back when I used Tumblr, I wrote the pitch there. The very first time I played it with a friend, which was in a long drive heading to a Nerdly Beach Party, it sung. And it’s crashed ever since. The Hurdle: Make it world again. It’s a beautiful world and premise. Right now, I’m looking at Murderous Ghosts as a framework, so if I get it to work, it could be a Powered by the Apocalypse game.

Halfling Nations is my “Halfling Israel Rokugan” setting. I have given a lot of thought about how to make this work, and I think I might make it a serial, where parts of the world are micro-books rather than writing a big setting book. And I’ve thought about making it a Patreon for that reason. It’s system-inspecific, though I’m sure I could write up a bit about it in Fate. The Hurdle: really, time is the main hurdle. It’s partly an examination on what I think makes for good setting design. It wouldn’t be metaplot, but instead snapshots of different pieces of the world.

Gun ‘n Fuck is a silly game I really should just finish. It’s my game inspired by Crank and Crank 2: High Voltage. It needs to intentionally be small, because it’s just pure irreverence (though with working mechanics and my thoughts on what makes an action story actually work). The alternative title of the game is “Marksmanship and Coitus.” The Hurdle: originally, I took the Dirty Secrets approach and made it a one-PC, many-GM game. Turns out everyone wants to play the Badass. So I need to fix that, and make better meta-mechanics that are simple.

Other Games

Astro-Chasers! is my attempt as a kids game. I have some notes about its design that I need to revisit. The Hurdle: getting parents to actually play it with their kids. If you’re a parent of a child between 6-10, please contact me if you’d like to try it! (Yes, I know that’s a wide age range. I’m not sure exactly where this pins.)

Sweettown is my “let’s take Candyland and reskin it to fit the movie Chinatown” idea. I’ve written a lot of cards and have a copy of Candyland in my library just itching to be hacked. The Hurdle: Actually making the cards in InDesign to try it. Maybe I’ll do that in January. Maybe not. Luckily, I’ve learned a lot from Daniel Solis’s class on using Data Merge in InDesign.

Game Accessories

The Convention GM Book is one of my white whales. I’ve talked about finishing that for years. The Hurdle: sitting down to finish it. There’s a lot of non-sexy writing to do.

A Guide to Investigation Games is a GM chapter I want to write, about how to make investigation games work in systems with high player agency, namely Fate (though ETU thoughts are also present). The Hurdle: The initial 3500-word outline/proto-document is done, but I need to re-evaluate it and then write the thing. Ideally, I could write it in a couple weeks, but that would mean having a couple weekends free. In the end, I suspect it wouldn’t be more than 10,000 words, which is still a healthy size.

Backstory Web Cards is a tool that I demoed at Metatopia and have in the hands of a dozen or so people. The Hurdle: It needs live testing, just not demos, even if the demos were all resounding successes. But once I have decent feedback, it should be easy to make the project live, as the text itself is small and the layout should be simple.

A Game Design Book — I’ve off and on had thoughts about taking some of my blog posts, cleaning them up, expanding them, and adding some other stuff to make a book about my thoughts on game design. The Hurdle: I know that’s a fuckton more effort that it sounds, so I never start it. Still, it’s on my list, because in a sense it’s “halfway done.”

A Collection of Fate Tools based on stuff I’ve written about on my blog and elsewhere. My blog content isn’t OGL/CC, so doing that (and in a way that involves an editor) would be a neat thing to throw out there. Maybe as a pay-what-you-want. The Hurdle: Time and effort.


Ask me what I’m thinking about in a month, and the list will grow. That’s because, as a creative, ideas keep happening. the trick is knowing when something’s just an idea, and when to let a hurdle stop you since there’s no way you’ll be able to finish all of your ideas in the lifespan you’re given.

– Ryan


2 Responses to An Accounting of Half-Done Projects

  1. Hamish says:

    There are many cool things on that list. Coincidentally, but apropos of very little, I’m spending the day reading and writing about various students of the other famous Zeno, of Citium.

  2. Andy says:

    “I might decide that HK-TK is, for instance, better using a diceless dance-based system in a couple months.”



    No, seriously though–I appreciate the Zeno’s Paradox point. It’s so incredibly true…