Iron Dynasty: Design Thoughts in a Rambling, Somewhat Linear Fashion

As we close in on getting Art of War, and Way of the Ronin through the queue. I find myself pausing to think about this crazy long journey these things have taken. The company began back in 2004 and was just me and the mouse in my pocket and a headful of crazy ideas. With one pitch to Shane, everything changed. Reality Blurs was approved for making RunePunk and I was in business. Interestingly, however, is the fact that in my presentation package, I included a mention of Katana: Samurai Steampunk, another project I was wanting to work on. How long can it take to crank out some game stuff after all, right? Riiight.

RunePunk was taking awhile. I was learning a new system, plus I was taking on everything the system had to offer- magic, technology, and introducing racial edges into the mix. (The racial edges was, in fact, inspired by the way that Harp did them. An interesting aside is Harp and Fate were the other two systems I was considering developing for at the outset, before I settled on Savage Worlds.) The secret thing about being a game designer is that I have always been more interested in the story than the mechanics. I know Reality Blurs has developed a solid reputation for good mechanics–and I’m especially proud of that fact–but it was by necessity than choice that I had to roll up my sleeves and get this stuff figured out. The kind of stories that I wanted to tell, and hopefully others did as well, focused on the characters, so it was (and is) essential for the players to be able to play a variety of characters (to avoid cookie-cutter types*). So, the underpinnings of character, which are the underpinnings of story, which was what I put paramount required a foundation of solid mechanics to enable the development of the heroes of the story. Nothing survives long on a faulty foundation.

RunePunk taught me volumes. I learned a lot in going it alone, and I learned a lot from my friend, Clint Black, who I brought on board late in the development process as a consultant who got me squared away on some of the nuances I was inadvertantly failing to grasp. Some of the best money I spent, I might add.

Now, I am more than comfortable with mechanics, and enjoy fiddling with them tremendously. They are another tool in the writer-as-interactive-media-creator’s arsenal and can shape the whole tenor of the setting. Realms of Cthulhu is a perfect example. The Sanity system integrates seamlessly into the whole engine of Savage Worlds…I like to think of it as rust-encrusted gibbering overlay on a fine, blueprinted engine, that makes it run just a little crazily. We included a socket-set in that one so people could trick it out themselves.

Wow. I’ve diverged far from Konoyo, the Known World, so I better wander back a bit. Ahem. First another confession, and then we’ll talk shop. There is a point to this, so hang in there. With RunePunk, I wanted to redline the system and see what it could handle. It could (and does) handle everything I threw at it—good to know with something I’m still fiddling with nearly six years later. When I first got to Iron Dynasty, it was right after coming off of RunePunk, and I got this concept of developing it with archetypes—y’know seven of them as an homage to Seven Samurai. A lot of the guys liked it, and I even thought I liked it for awhile, but it seemed off. One of the guys who came into the playtest late in the game was Norm Hensley (the one now working for us). He had the brass to tell me he was disappointed coupled with the articulation to tell me why. I felt like another Norm, Norm Osbourne (as played by Willem deFoe) when he flipped out in his own mad lab with the line something to the effect of “Back to formula?!” Unlike Norm, I didn’t have a cool Green Goblin suit and injectibles to make my superhuman or my future may have wound up differently. Instead, I took a deep breath, muttered those words, and started the whole thing over. Well, nearly over. There were a few salvageable parts and concepts that we kept and moved forward with, and we broke it down where it has this level of flexibility that I’m deeply proud of. For example, there are at least three ways right off the top of my head to build a very cool ninja. I’m sure there are more, but that’s not too shabby.

Stacy Young hit my radar while Iron Dynasty developed. We were buds a bit in high school—I even introduced him to gaming (that’s another story)—but we had different lives and I hadn’t heard from him in years until he contacted me. He played Showdown, the miniatures aspect of Savage Worlds, and we ended up talking about the possibilities of him coming on board to develop ID out into a minis game. This had always been my intent, but as you can see, working all by yourself can greatly inhibit your productivity. When I mean all by myself, I mean, I was the layout guy, writer, art director, website guy, marketing, editing, and anything else that didn’t involve actually drawing things. Stacy and I worked on bringing Iron Dynasty to Showdown, and we learned a valuable lesson—as cool as it might sound to do parallel development (and it will show in the end result as these two products are closely tied together)—it can also be an incredibly frustrating experience as reconciliation must be made between the two and as the lead creative guy, I gave Stacy a moving target more than once. Luckily, we somehow survived.

At any case, I need to get back to writing on the remaining pieces of Way of the Ronin, if we are to finally get it out there. Art of War is going through another round of edits, even as the art begins to come in on both of these guys. (I said guys because I’ve lived with these oriental twins (Remus-a-san and Romulus-a-san) for quite a long time now. They’re family. But the kids are growing up, and are getting prepared to take their first steps out into the big, bad world. I think that they are just about ready.



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