Talking it Out: Crafting Good Works through Conversation
We all know the lonely, solitary act which is writing, and how this creates an interesting dichotomy when juxtaposed with the social act of gaming. The question of the day, then, is what to do when writing gaming materials? Certainly, playtesting is important, but there is the phase in-between concept (having the idea) and completion (getting those words down on paper) and sometimes the best of us (and the rest of us) can reap wonderful benefits from the massive act of having a sounding board, someone with whom we can bounce off our ideas and (in ideal cases) help catalyze additional good stuff or point out holes in what we thought was already whole.
Writers are frequently warned not to talk about their story ideas as if, by doing so, they lose all the impetus and the desire to complete the project. If you only have enough energy to puff up chest and share some high concepts, shame on you! You may want to consider another occupation because crafting game stuff is more of a marathon than a sprint. Sharing our ideas with trusted friends and colleagues can aid us in accomplishing something of merit and worth. However, like with all things, there is a proper time and place to take a break from the keyboard and have a brainstorming session. I’ll list my suggestions of the when.
1. The Concept Phase: Whether you’re writing for yourself or someone else, you should make certain you’re on the same page with your target audience. While you might think a game about fuzzy dinosaurs with laser guns is cool, that might miss the mark if you should be working on a serious post-apocalyptic setting. You can avoid both headache and heartache if you establish proper design goals.
2. The Rough & Ugly Phase: At this point, you have a bastardized draft of rules, a hodge-podge of setting materials (enough to drive the mechanics forward), and you need to bounce off the ideas to see if anything is missed. You can suffer from the “forest for the trees” by being so immersed in your project, for example, you’ve neglected to include something of import which should be there, such as how standard Arcane Backgrounds should be handled in a fantasy setting, or rules for hacking in a spy setting. The best way to do this is forward your material off to someone, allow them to read it over, and then you can have an intelligent conversation about it. While you can certainly have a back and forth via email, there is something about a conversation, a certain magic, where unexpected things can manifest and tangents can be sparked bringing about things which may otherwise be missed exclusively using emails or online chats.
3. I Think I’m Done Phase: This stage is where you’ve written all the bits and pieces. You’ve fleshed out the skeleton. You’ve made sure all the necessary details of the world are there, but you feel there may be something missing. You give it to other eyes and eagerly await their responses. Unlike the other phases, this one can be done via email, but if you can talk with somebody, anybody, your work will be stronger for it. For example, I recall having overlooked how education has handled in RunePunk initially, but it was pointed out it was missing. When cutting something from whole cloth, it’s essential to make certain you address such finer details. A minor detail, but a painting is made up of many tiny brush strokes.
Now, don’t get the idea I send off everything to everyone. As you grow in confidence and capability, there should be more and more instances where you know what you are doing, but then you find yourself in the solitary confinement of a writer. This is not a bad thing, but you should make certain you communicate with the outside world, share insights, gather opinions, for you never know what may serve to inform and strengthen your work. Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!