T.S. has done some amazing work in the tabletop industry over the years with credits on Green Ronin‘s comic-based Red Star and Nocturnals campaign settings for Mutants & Masterminds and the Dragon Age RPG (based on the popular video game). His next big credit, the Dragon Age scenario Blood in Ferelden, is out now in PDF (and soon in print).
Matt Forbeck was among the first professionals who welcomed me into the game industry. I’ve been a fan of his for years but more than simply enjoying his work I’ve enjoyed seeing his career branch out, reaching higher and higher. I like when my friends do well, I smile when I see their work appreciated and their goals achieved, so I’m near giddy that his first original novel not only got picked up but was snagged by one of the most exciting publishers out there, Angry Robot.
Introducing Matt Forbeck’s AMORTALS.
Matt’s a machine and he’s earned every success. I hope AMORTALS (and his other upcoming novel VEGAS KNIGHTS, also published by Angry Robot) do well for him. If you’re in the UK, you can grab it on bookshelves now. Folks in the US (like me) will have to wait until January 2011. It’s available everywhere in digital format though so if you can’t wait to tear into it, grab the Nook or Kindle flavors.
A couple months ago, I had the honor of proofreading Hamlet’s Hit Points, the new work by esteemed game designer Robin D. Laws. In the book, Robin discusses how stories work and codifies the aspects that you find over and over again, the pillars of storytelling. He also dissects three classic stories in very different genres (Dr. No, Casablanca, and the titular Shakespearean work) by putting his code into practice. And all of this is done with an eye toward tabletop gaming.
Gameplaywright, of The Bones and Things We Think About Games fame, released the book at GenCon and it quickly sold out. If you have an interest in stories, games, and especially stories in games, and you missed your chance to get it at GenCon, you can get the book now straight from the publisher.
I’m always looking for solid texts on story and this is a good one. That it’s by a designer I know and respect makes it that much better.
Over at his blog, Daniel M. Perez shares the stomach-twisting playtest premier of his first tabletop design, a reimagining of the popular roleplaying game Vampire.
Daniel’s travails at running his first design reminded me of the terror I felt when running my first game, Little Fears, for folks outside my gaming group. In fact, when Little Fears made its print debut at Origins 2001, I didn’t run a single game of it at the con. I recruited my friend Greg Oliver to do the heavy lifting there. I spent my time at the booth where I was busy learning the ways of convention selling, The Pitch, and answering questions about this strange new game, and fielding a truly humbling industry and retailer response to the game.
Truth is, I’ve only ever been comfortable running one of my own designs, the brilliant-but-canceled Normal, Texas. Even then, the first public game was gut-wrenching (shaking from nerves, sweating a truly uncomfortable amount, laughing a little too long at every funny comment, taking too much time to explain the system) but I eventually found my rhythm demoing that game. I developed a short script that explained the mechanics quickly. I learned to always start the demo in media res. I set up the scenario and got to “Okay, what do you do?” in under a minute. I developed a handful of scenarios and characters I used over and over to the point that I could, throughout play, suggest a variety of actions for players if they were stuck. (Read as: I cribbed from previous sessions featuring that same character played by other people.) That became my demo paradigm. But Normal, Texas is a bit of an anomaly; I’ve never developed that same level of comfort with any other design of mine—no matter how much I’ve played the game.
I get requests to run Little Fears at conventions and I oblige where I can. But I’m not the best person for the job. I think that’s okay. Because designing and demoing are entirely different skill sets. Designing and selling are different skill sets as well. Yes, though closely related, demoing and selling are also different skill sets. Only a three-headed god would be great at all of them. But all are put to the test in the convention environment, moreso than anything else that went into the creation of the game.
In the tabletop world, you learn a lot of different skills, from editing to layout to print buying to conventioneering and only a few people truly excel at all of those. They’re crafts that, if you’re not a natural (and, man, who is), you need to study and nurture to really get good at them. When first starting out, you can only put your focus on so many of those things. If you’re a game maker, you focus on design which is the most important. You want a beautiful product, which will help move your game, so art direction and layout are important as well. If you want your book on shelves, learn your options for wholesale and retail representation.
That’s a lot to learn and that’s only half of it. Once you get a feel for all this, you start to learn your strengths and weaknesses in each field. The bold move is to learn it all. Dive right in; take on every responsibility as your own. It’s bold, yeah. It’s also dumb. That’s what I did and I don’t recommend it. Not at first, certainly, and maybe never. Since I was doing so much, I couldn’t devote the time necessary to truly excel at any one skill. My knowledge was broad, yes, but thin.
There’s no shame in handing off a design to someone else whose willing to demo your game. This goes for playtesting as well. Sure, you want the most direct and pointed feedback at that stage but you may not be the person who is best equipped to get that information.
You haven’t failed because someone else is better at selling your game than you are. There’s a reason the big companies have demo teams and salespeople. There’s a reason your favorite designer may not be running games at Gen Con or handling customers at the booth. It’s not (necessarily) because they’re aloof. They may just not be the best person for the job. Hey, they may be the worst person for the job. (Few things will turn off a potential sale faster than the overly-enthusiastic and tortuous hard sell that I’ve received from a fair number of designers.) You are probably not in a position to hire demo teams or sales reps but you probably have friends who can help out.
Along that same line, there are folks who are brilliant demo or sales people who aren’t great at design. And I’m not holding one above another here. As someone who has been in each position, those who are good at each skill are aces in my book.
I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have worked with top sales folk (calling out T.S. Luikart on this one) and demo people (looking at Caz Granberg here). They both (and others) have made this mid-level designer look good. To all my fellow designers who are also not three-headed gods, I hope you find good people as well (which may be the single best skill of them all).
I rolled home late Sunday night still riding the high from five glorious days spent catching up with old friends, making new ones, and playing some games. I came to GenCon for the sole purpose of seeing friends and kept that as my priority throughout the show. Still, I talked some business, landed a few gigs, and made some new connections, all of which is like piling cherries on top of a cherry-frosted cherry cake already dripping with cherry liqueur.
Little Fears Nightmare Edition sold out at 3:30 on Sunday (seems I brought just the right amount of copies) and, though I didn’t witness most of those sales, I was present at a few who received the new edition with a lot of enthusiasm. If you missed picking it up at the show, it’s available through the official site and select retailers in hard copy and through DriveThruRPG in PDF.
GenCon is a magical event. I’m renewed and reinvested in the hobby and industry that has been so good to me. After a long time away, it’s good to be back. Let’s see what the future brings.
Thought I’d shed a little light on some of the exciting projects my friends have been cooking up.
Jeff Preston’s 60 Character Portraits
Illustrator-extraordinaire Jeff Preston recently launched a Kickstarter project along with co-conspirator A Terrible Idea called “60 Terrible Character Portraits For Creative Commons Release.” Don’t let the name fool you; the images are anything but terrible. See for yourself below.
If you dig it, kick in a few bucks to help the project here.
Daniel Solis’ Happy Birthday, Robot!
Daniel Solis, along with publisher Evil Hat, just released the print version of Happy Birthday, Robot! I can’t praise this game enough for its concept, goals, and presentation. This game is perfect for getting kids into story creation and using their imagination for the purely fantastic. I can’t sell it nearly as well as the creator does. Check out this video for more information.
If this sounds good to you, pick it up through Evil Hat’s online store.
Monica Valentinelli’s Queen of Crows
Monica Valentinelli released a book trailer for her ebook Queen of Crows, a tie-in to her Violet War setting. She created the video herself, featuring work by illustrator Leanne Buckley and musician James Semple. Check out the trailer below.
If you’re intrigued, you can currently grab the pdf at DriveThruRPG for 25% off its list price (just $3.74).