A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer




What better way to start a new blog than to introduce myself.

My name is David "Nighthawk" Flor and I am technically a game designer. I use the term "technically" because I haven't actually done it professionally... That is, nobody has actually paid me to design a game (yet), but you can't blame me for trying.

What I *am* professionally is a software developer, and have been programming for close to 30 years. During that time, as a hobby of sorts, I have done video game design (created "The Opera", an add-on to Half-Life) and alternate reality game design (founder of Darklight Interactive, designed and ran Looking Glass Laboratories), and am now venturing in the strange new world that is campaign design within the Dungeons and Dragons 4e ruleset.

What possessed me to do that, you wonder? For the past two years I've been designing an alternate reality game called Rachel's Walk. It's a massively complex and intricate world, containing people and places both in the real world and in an imaginary game space powered by something I call the "Dream Engine". I admit that my design is a little... how should I say... ambitious. But it was a great idea on paper anyway.

At the same time I was developing the backstory to this campaign, several friends introduced me to the D&D 4e ruleset. Now I'd played D&D before, going all the way back to the first edition, but this new rule set was quite intriguing. It was then I realized something: the backstory I was creating for Rachel's Walk would probably make a really cool campaign.

And so it began. Over the span of several months I created a campaign that spanned nine chapters, taking a party of five from level 1 all the way to level 10. A whole new continent, a band of NPCs, new monsters, new traps, new items... I admit I really got in to it, designing some areas with intricate detail even though the players might never see them. And I found myself drawing some pretty impressive maps, which is quite an achievement for a computer programmer who couldn't draw a square at gunpoint a year ago.

Since then I have launched the campaign on two forums, one of which is the Wizards of the Coast Real Adventures group, in the hopes that it can be playtested. Since my background is video game and alternate reality game design, some of my horribly intricate ideas did not translate to a D&D campaign very well, so I needed players in order to refine the mechanics of it. It was essentially a "beta", and during these controlled trials in which my players went through the paces I began to realize that players are quite a creative bunch. They tried things that I didn't expect, asked questions on story elements I hadn't even considered. They made the design better, and because of their input quite a few things have changed since it was first conceptualized.

So here we are. With the assistance of my players, I have decided to put together this campaign in a module format (whether I sell it or not is still up in the air). And I thought I might as well share some of the design considerations that went in to it with you.

But there's more... While running the campaign, I realized that managing a 4e campaign is HARD. There's so many details that the DM needs to keep track of - hit points, bonuses, detrimental effects, encounter powers, surges, treasure, even things like interactions with NPCs - that it's easy to lose one's mind. So I did what any programmer would do: I began to create a suite of applications - both offline and online - that will assist me in the execution of the campaign. This includes linkable online die rollers (a concept I didn't even know existed until I saw its use on the WotC forums), map generators, image hosting services, encounter managers and more. I realized that these tools should be available to everyone, not just little old me. So you'll see me mention them a lot, with the ultimate goal of making them available to the masses.

This blog will not reveal "spoilers" from the existing campaign; I'll try not to do that as best I can because I do want my playtesters to be able to read this blog without having it spoil their future.

I hope you stick around.

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  1. Ha, we didn’t do you many favors picking characters who all apply some sort of penalty or bonus every single round. Look forward to reading the blog, and thanks for keeping it spoiler free!

  2. Hoo, you’ve already posted three blogs! Nice 🙂

    I’ll be reading along!

  3. Hey, DLI, nice site so far… keep up the good work… and not that I know anything about any programming at all, but excellent points about the CB and, correspondingly, the Monster Builder… why not look up the data when (and if) you really need it??


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