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Designing FAQ

Before I go any further, let me answer this question: is this list definitive? The answer is no. It is not definitive, nor will it ever be. Nor, for that matter, should it be thought of as a set of rules, merely guidelines. If you can think of a way of doing something that the FAQ says you shouldn't and you think you can get away with it - go for it. That's the way some people write. However, if you're a new writer you might want to stick to these guidelines until you're a bit more confident on your feet.

This FAQ is meant for convention modules. Some, indeed most, of it can probably be used for campaign games as well - although some bits obviously won't work. If someone wants to compile a campaign designing FAQ I'm happy to provide space for it.


Getting Started - what's the first step?

Writing The Story - what is the game about?

Writing Characters - who are they going to be playing?

Playtesting - how does it actually go outside of my head?

Running The Game - what do I do at the con?

What Next? - what do I do next?


Getting Started

Every great adventure has to start somewhere - and writing your first game for a convention can be terrifying, especially if it's a large convention. However, it needn't be all that problematic as long as you don't panic and write the game in the last week - like so many of the best designers still do.

Where do I start?

Well, naturally you need to have some idea of what game you want to write. However, there are some things you should do just in order to get an idea of how games are run.

  • Play a few convention games to get an idea of how they're presented.
  • Talk to the designers of games you like to get a feel for how they go about things.

How do I write a blurb?

Quite simply, make sure that your blurb is brief, that it describes the game, that it includes any limitations your game might have (for example, age limit), that it includes your name and, if necessary, a means of contacting you, and that it contains all the information players will need (system knowledge necessary, cathartic etc.) to make a decision as to whether to play it.

It is not OK to write a deliberately misleading blurb. While it might seem a good idea to try and deliver a serious game at people expecting a comedy to see how they react, don't. It is not OK to break this rule. Essentially the blurb is there so that people can make a decision whether or not they want to play your game. If people don't want to play your game, learn to live with it, don't try to trick them into playing.

How many sessions should my game be?

This is entirely up to you (unless of course you're writing for a specific format game such as a Short Sharp Shock - unlikely for your first game!) but take note of the fact that fewer people play 2 or 3 (or more!) session games. Remember also that you're going to need more GMs for more sessions and that they're all going to have to have a good idea of what happens in every session. Generally, it's a good idea to stick to one session games unless you're writing something like an epic adventure.

How many characters should I write?

For a module, the average is between 4-6. In Sydney, the standard is 5 players. In Melbourne, the standard is either 4 or 6, although 5 player games are starting to come in. Your game should, if possible, be flexible in the number of players it can handle.

For freeforms - the sky's the limit! Generally, though, between 10-20 players is a good size for a freeform.

Is it OK to break these rules?

Absolutely! As I mentioned before, this is not a set of rules, merely a set of guidelines. If you can think of a good way of breaking a rule (even the ones marked DO NOT BREAK) then go for it! However, for your first game or two you should probably stick to the formula.

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Writing The Story

Is it OK to write a 'Tunnel Of Fun'

Absolutely! The trick is to write a linear game without letting your players realise that that's what you've done. In general - write a direct plot but be prepared for teams to veer off your plot. In the words of one experienced designer, "No game survives first contact with the players."

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Writing Characters

How long should my character sheets be?

That depends on how many sessions your game is and what kind of game it is. For a normal, one session module, more than two pages is starting to get into the realms of over-large. More than three pages is too much. For a two or more session game you can go to three or four pages but not much more. If you are running a system game you can add an extra page for stats. In a freeform, you can add an extra page to allow for the extra information that people need - such as information on other characters and so on.

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Playtesting

Do I need to playtest my game?

Yes.

How many times should I playtest?

You can get away with one playtest, provided all goes well, but it's better to try two or three. Your first playtest is really a chance to test the concept of a game and many games need a lot of re-writing after a first playtest.

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Running The Game

How many GMs will I need?

This depends on the size of the convention, what kind of game you're running, how well-known you are as a writer, how many eggs you've eaten since last June and a little-known factor I refer to as the gromp. Essentially there is no answer to this. However, as a rule of thumb you should try to provide 2 GMs for each session - including yourself. For larger conventions (over 300 people in Australia) or for more popular games (who knows?) you may need up to 4 GMs per session.

If you're running a freeform, the general rule of thumb is one GM to every 4-8 players, with a 1:5 being about average.

For some games you may need 2 or more GMs per team. If so, then you need to translate "GMs" above as "GM teams".

Should I give out character sheets at registration?

If your character sheets are lengthy and will need some time to read, then you may wish to do so. If you have a large amount of background information that players need to absorb then again you might want to give this out at registration. However, be aware that some people will lose their copy - no matter how carefully you ask them not to. Always have backups!

What's the best way to award trophies?

There is no answer to this. However, some things you may wish to consider are:

  • Never give two trophies for the same game to the same person - for example, Best Player and Best Team.
  • Try to space out your trophies over as many teams as possible.
  • Don't give all the trophies to well-known players - they've got plenty already.
  • Don't take too long at prize-giving. No anecdotes and no pausing after each name for applause.

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What Next

How do I get feedback?

This is almost impossible. Most players after a game that they hated will tell the GM "Thanks" and then run for it. Getting constructive feedback can be very difficult. There are a couple of things you can do, though.

  • Ask. Some people will actually give you an honest opinion. Ask about specific parts of the game - "Did it work for you when I did this?"
  • Talk to people at the post-con pub. People are a lot more relaxed at this time and more likely to talk.
  • Read public forums like aus.games.roleplay - some people will post opinions here that they wouldn't say at the time.

Should I run a sequel?

If people enjoyed your game enough, if you think you've got the energy, if you can find a con that will take it - sure! Go for it!

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Disagree with what's here? Agree but think more needs to be added? Just feel like praising us? Got questions? Mail me.

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