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



A Place In The World

Gosh, it's been a while. Saying "I've been rather busy" is somewhat of an understatement.

ArchmageEngine_RGB_150x150.fwAs of late I've been having a but of a problem in the development of the Atomic Age RPG: I'm not exactly sure what the RPG is meant to be, in a manner of speaking.

You see, when I first saw the Archmage Engine SRD and decided "I could make a game with this", my original vision was to make something along the lines of Gamma World, and capitalize on that system's appeal. Create the utterly bizarre, and give the GMs the artistic liberty to create an environment that could be whatever they want it to be, however zany, off-the-wall and madcap they would want to make it. You know, gun-toting badgers and land sharks... that sort of thing.

But over the past four months of development it seems I've ended up with something different. The zaniness isn't there, at least not on the surface, and replaced with the elements of a gritty reality of a post-apocalyptic world. I found myself writing pages on gun mechanics, on vehicle driving rules, on poisons and toxins, on radiation exposure and so on...

That's mainly because, and I've mentioned this before, I'm a mechanics guy. As a computer science/mathematics major and a career software developer, I find myself at home writing crunch and could spend days, weeks, or even months writing mechanics. But writing fluff for me, quite honestly, is rather hard and takes a great deal of effort. You can't imagine how many rewrites I've done to some of the fluff pieces in this product... such as the icons or the geography. They're still 90% filled of "TODO" sections that are yet to be written.

So, after looking at the project as it stands now, rather than having something like Gamma World - which is what I originally intended, at least superficially - the RPG has ended up leaning towards something along the lines of Fallout or Mad Max. A gritty, harsh, post-apocalyptic world that has its share of weirdness, sure, but it isn't as over the top "WTF?!?" crazy that is Gamma World.

Although I accept that that's how the mechanics turned out, now I have to put together the fluff around it. The major dilemma I have right now is trying to decide what the system actually looks like... I need branding. I've asked a few people for ideas on what that should be, with the intention of at least getting a logo to start the social media blitz, but a lot of examples I've gotten in response to my inquiries have been leaning towards the original intent of this project: very Gamma World-like. And, now that I think of it, my project isn't that any more. And those that weren't GW-like seem very Fallout-like... I don't want to be "Fallout: The RPG".

Don't get me wrong: the weirdness is there. I have sentient plants, rampant AIs that want to kill you, an vorpal rabbits.

Part of the reason is that, by design, 13th Age is kind of open ended. They don't ram the setting down your throat, leaving it with a gray area on purpose and hoping that the GM will fill in the blanks. For example, very little is said of the icons, and the GMs can weave their stories any way they see fit without fear of breaking canon... because there is no canon. So for a while I thought to not pigeonhole myself in to something GW-like or not GW-like, leaving a gray area on purpose. If the DM wanted to make it like the Gamma World of old, he could do so with nominal effort. If he wanted Fallout, he can do that as well...

But the problem with that is that it makes it very difficult to present a product identity when the product doesn't have an identity in the first place. It's hard to give an elevator pitch to a product that's 99% gray area.

So that's where I stand right now... I have a whole metric truckload of mechanics waiting to be playtested, but no look and feel. It's ready to be reviewed, at least in terms of mechanics and playability, but I'm hesitant to do so without any identity. Yeah, that didn't stop D&D Next from getting playtested without a logo, but they have a foundation.

And I have to wonder... do I have an audience now? Doing something like Gamma World had an audience because that niche had yet to be filled, but since I'm not that I wonder how much appeal my product would actually have. And I'm not the type of person to turn my product into something like Gamma World by force just because it can be more successful. The product is what it is... 13th Age exists because it's the RPG the creators wanted to create and would play themselves. Atomic Age is in the same boat. I don't feel bad about that I suppose, but in light of my goal to have a successful Kickstarter I can't help but wonder if I'll have an audience for it.

Anyway, for now I'm going to work on reformatting all my Word documents into a PDF format for playtesting. By the time I'm done, hopefully, I'll have a better idea of what the project is and is meant to be, and maybe we can start getting it out there for my would-be audience to review and see if there's a place for it in this market.

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  1. While an audience exists for Gamma World, that game exists already (in various forms, including an amazing 4E version). Furthermore, the game is owned by Wizards and many of us will find little interest in someone duplicating another company’s product for 13th Age.

    Make the game you want to make. When you crowd source it, set realistic goals based on your costs plus the profit you need to make for this to be worth your while. Making a game that isn’t Gamma World, and being able to tell us why you like those differences, will likely make your product better. If you have trouble with aspects of the project, you may need to bring in help if those aspects are important and need higher quality. An editor is a must, but you may need a fluff writer as well. It will be worth it in the end, because so many gamers place great importance on evocative tone, story, and flavor. Good luck!

  2. “Furthermore, the game is owned by Wizards and many of us will find little interest in someone duplicating another company‚Äôs product for 13th Age.”

    Wouldn’t 13th Age players find this statement a little strange? Isn’t 13th Age basically a duplicate of something WOTC offers? And if they (13th Age players) buy into that duplicate, why wouldn’t they buy into another one?

  3. I think most would agree that 13th Age is very much a separate RPG from any DnD edition, even if inspired by several. It isn’t a copy. It wasn’t “let’s make Gamma World,” but rather “we really dig Gamma World, let’s make something inspired by that but with many key differences.” I think (perhaps incorrectly) that many fans value those differences, plus the explanation of why the designers wanted to make their own version.

  4. Well, however you slice it, I’m interested in a gritty, Fallout-level game as well as a Gamma World style game. (Though Fallout certainly has its goofy elements…)

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