I might try this out once Game Chef is over.
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The biggest advantage would be visibility, yeah. Having an Itch page for the game means it gets seen and downloaded by different people, who might not see your own site.
My experience is that the Itch page generates a decent number of downloads, but almost no actual money. (DriveThruRPG is slightly better for earning money in my experience. My Pay What You Want games get about twice as many downloads on DriveThru, but about ten times as much income. But the actual dollar amounts are still minuscule in either place.)
I only write games because I HAVE to. I don't know any other way to make a game.
For the emotional bleed issue, I think you should playtest as much as you reasonably can. If that means only one playtest, then do one playtest. Ideally, get other people t playtest for you (though that's pretty hard by itself.) Or playtest, wait a few months and then playtest again once you're emotionally removed from the first game.
(If you can't do any playtests, I'd want the text to make that clear, and suggest you shouldn't charge for the game until you've playtested it some. But that's a different discussion thread.)
For any project I'm seriously working on, I'll create a custom station on Pandora that evokes the moods and themes that I'm looking to capture in the game. For my current epistolary RPG playtest, I'm playing the ghost of an old blues musician who sold his soul o the devil, so the channel is formed from "Me and the Devil Blues" and "Hellhound on my Trail" by Robert Johnson. When writing for my game about lonely dinosaur people, it was a combination of Koyanisqaatsi by Phillip Glass and the soundtrack to The Dark Crystal. When making a game about substitute Grim Reapers, it's all old bluegrass spirituals, French-Canadian folk songs and upbeat songs about depressing topics ("When Will You Die" by They Might Be Giants, "More Bad Times" by the Presidents of the United States of America, etc.)
I played Hillfolk a few times and thought it was really great. I'm often surprised that it didn't make more impact than it did.
The procedural rules aren't great, but you could easily drop them or replace them with any simple generic system without it being a problem. (Ideally, the system you'd replace it with would feed back into the dramatic system, by putting pressure on people's relationships and desires.)
The most common complaint I've seen is that people don't like the "spend two drama tokens to force a concession from the other player". The complaints often come down to "my character wouldn't do that" or "I'm just playing my character, why should I give in when my character wouldn't?" and the complaints are just as invalid here as any other time that excuse is used anywhere else. The entire point of the game is to get characters who give in some of the time, who act in different ways depending on the dramatic situation. That's why you have dramatic poles: if one desire is pushing you to refuse but the dramatic tokens say you give in, try seeing the situation from the other dramatic pole. Or use your relationships to build an excuse, e.g. "I'll do this for you this one time, but only because you're my brother. And next time don't come asking me for help" sort of thing. The drama token economy is an important part of structuring play. Anyone who has 2 tokens has repeatedly been on the "losing" side of a scene already, so it creates a more satisfying story to give them this win. So find ways to make it make sense for your character. I'm sure that, with some creativity and effort, you can find a way to make it satisfying for everyone.
Feel free to take it and incorporate it into any game where it fits.
I would tend to use it in games with simpler mechanisms, where it's just "If you can justify how your coldbloodedness helps Lizard Amelia escape from danger, then you get a bonus die" or something like that. Because then every statement could be relevant, in the right contexts, without additional rules overhead.
But I could see working this into a game with more concrete, spelled out powers as well. (Nobilis 3rd edition tried something similar, with an inspirational phase of character creation and then a more concrete mechanical phase, but it wasn't really successful.)
The idea was partly inspired by Jason Morningstar's unfinished game Nine Roosevelts Against the Impossible. And also some mechanics I had in an early draft of a completely different game, where it was used to make a family of people who were similar to each other but not the same as each other.
Time travel character generation idea:
All the PCs are the same historical person, but from different timelines. To begin the game, you establish 5 facts that everyone knows about that person. (These don't have to be true, maybe Napoleon really was extremely short in most timelines, just not ours. but they need to be common knowledge about that person.) So for Amelia Earhart, you might have facts like "daredevil pilot" and "disappeared flying over the ocean".
Once you have those five facts, every player will create their specific version of the character. You have several responses, that you distribute between them. "Yes, and...", "Yes", "Yes, but...", No, but..." and "No, and...". Choose one response to match each fact, then finish the sentence. e.g., "Yes, I was a daredevil pilot, but it wasn't with airplanes. On our world, we had giant insects that I helped tame and turn into useful flying mounts." "No, I didn't disappear flying over the ocean, and I became famous as the first person, man or woman, to circumnavigate the globe by air."
So everyone gets a character that is recognizably that historical person, but also is weird and different than the other PCs.
Variant: instead of always having one of each response, you could instead roll some dice. 1=No, and 2=No, but 3=Yes, but 4=Yes 5=Yes, and 6=player's choice.
Come to think of it, this is also ready made for an Into the Spiderverse / Crisis on Infinite Earths / What If...? / Batman Who Laughs superhero game, where everyone can play variants of the same superhero.
Some of my most successful name lists were where I gave the players a short list that had a strong, clear rule for making their own names and then let the player invent within a clear framework. These were usually names for aliens or nonhumans of some sort. So when playing murderous exiled faerie creatures, everyone had an elaborate, poetic and sociopathic sounding title, like "The Final Empress who Sent the Whisperer" and "She Who Sleeps Soundly After the Slaughter" and "The Blood Poet".
In another game, we were all aliens studying the earth, and the rule was that we would pick a shared glossary of obscure terminology for some technical field and then take a term from it for out name. Players loved looking up glossaries online until we settled on one and divvied out names from it.
So, the idea would be telling players enough to get their imaginations going and make up their own things that seem to fit a pattern. Which... I guess that's exactly like every other part of RPG design, then.
Name lists can help the audience get a feel for the language: what sounds are common for the language, what are absent, how many syllables the name has, etc. Varying the linguistic characteristics of a name list can help make the names less generic fantasy.
Name lists can provide a mixture of names that are common and predictable and ones that are more unexpected but still fit in.
Names lists can help tell you what a culture or people value. Matronymics and patronymics tell you that family is important to that group. Bynames suggest that individual personal achievement is important. Names based on occupation tell you about their culture, while names based in nature tell you something else. Puritans named their children little (or sometimes long) sermons about God, to tell you what they thought about the importance of religion. Names can suggest social status and role in society.
Names lists can help indicate tone: whether a group is fancy, or down-to-earth, or silly or harsh. (A lot of that can come from linguistic properties and word choices.)
Names can inspire the player, and make them think about their characters and the world as vivid and real.
That's a lot you can accomplish, with just a list of names. (There's probably a lot more, too.) The tricky thing is making a list that does those things.
Making Swords Without Master into Star Wars requires basically no work at all. Star Wars is already swords and sorcery with spaceships, so using a swords and sorcery focused system works just fine.
I'm running a space opera game using Swords Without Master right now, and it works really well. Initially, I didn't really change anything except to rename things to sound science fiction-y instead of Conan-like. So your eidolon is now your simulacrum, Naming is called "adding it to your Orbit" etc.
After playing for a bit, the players didn't like how the Perilous phase worked, so we scrapped it and replaced it with the conflict rules from Misspent Youth and that is great. but I think they'd have been unhappy with the Perilous phase regardless of what genre we were playing in.
I'm only GMing at the moment. But in our current game, we have some awesome player characters:
A starship engineer, raised in a hyperdrive cult but now exiled for heresy. A cyborg sent into the universe as a living probe, never able to return home. A genetically engineered perfect human with a cyborg dog and a knack for finding things. An amoral archaeologist seeking g ancient technology. A colossal, laconic nonbinary individual who befriended a cybernetic snake monster. And a mysterious stranger who can sing forgotten dirges to put people to sleep.
Cool. This is totally my sort of game.
At first I thought "Didn't I make a game almost exactly like that?" But that was a 2 page RPG combining Continuum and Cthulhu Dark. Now I guess I don't have to make the World of Dungeons version, because you already made it.
I'm still surprised that A Penny For My Thoughts didn't inspire a big wave of imitators and hacks of the game for different genres. It does some really interesting, effective stuff with how to structure the storytelling and how to evoke a specific atmosphere through mechanics. If nothing else, the "ask two people what happens, then choose one answer to be true" thing could easily be used in many other games.
I'd love to see Ganakagok applied to other genres. I think it's core mechanics and concepts would be great when applied to things from space opera to alien abductions. The use of Tarot-like cards in that game is really smart, and could be used in almost any genre (basically, the dice mechanics use aspects of your character and the setting to decide who gets to interpret the Tarot-like card).
I like how Swords Without Master structures the game as conversation into specific phases and decides who says what when and how the tone dice work. But I hate swords and sorcery as a genre. So I would love to see it applied to other genres. Maybe even tell different sorts of stories. (I think you could use this over-the-top action adventure game to tell some interesting personal drama stories, but it would take some hacking to get there.)
I hacked Cthulhu Dark a couple times (into a time travel game and a steampunk ghost hunting game, plus an occult western where it's hacked until the game is nearly unrecognizable). Adding more Insight-like numbers works great when you have different, bad endings for each die. So in the cowboy game, you have your "Way of the Gun" die. When it maxes out, you are gunned down like a dog. If you max out in "Way of the Drifter", you wander into the desert and are never seen again.
The cool thing about doing that is it forces the player to make some interesting choices other games don't. Most games encourage you to find ways to make your best skill applicable to all situations. But this does exactly the opposite: use one method to solve all problems and you're out of the game quickly. So every character wants to show different sides at different times.
I love hacking Cthulhu Dark. It's got a lot of potential t be applied to a lot of different stories in different ways.
I haven't looked at that book in a long, long time. But it really did change how I think about game design as well. I still sometimes sketch out the mechanics of a game to see how everything relates to everything else, like in the diagrams in that book.
Sometimes, it helps to look at your game in a structured way. These are some ways of thinking about your game that I've found useful. They're basically a way to focus your thoughts on one specific aspect of the game at a time. When I'm working on a game and I find myself stuck, I will sometimes turn to one of these tools to focus my thoughts and reflect on it to see if that helps clarify things. Sometimes it helps. (Sometimes it doesn't.)
This worksheet starts you thinking about how to allocate resources, and what is important for your game.
The Power 19 is a list of questions to ask yourself about your game. It's a way to make sure you're thinking about different aspects of it, and how they all tie together to reinforce what your game is about.
Vince Baker suggests that all games necessarily make statements about different topics: about your fictional subject matter, about roleplaying as a practice, and about human nature. So it's useful to ask yourself what your game is saying about each of those. What insights is your game built around? Is it saying what you want to say about each?
The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jesse Shell is a book structured as a series of thought experiments, to help you think through different aspects of your game design. It's primarily aimed at videogames (the industry Shell works in) but has lessons applicable to tabletop games as well. (There's a free app for the lenses, which is more useful if you've read the book.)
Each of these has underlying assumptions that might not apply to your project (e.g., the worksheet's Allocate Authorities section doesn't make sense in a GMless or single player game, many lenses in Schell's book don't apply to analog RPGs.) But they still can be useful mental tools for thinking about a game. Even realizing that your game doesn't fit the author's assumptions is a significant thing to know about your game. Just don't let yourself fall into the trap of taking the author's assumptions for granted. That would lead to less creative games, when these tools are supposed to help you create more creative games.
Maybe you have some other similar frameworks for thinking about game design? I'd be interested to see what you use to structure your thoughts.
I'd be happy to read over any short games people have where they want some feedback.
(How short is short? I don't really know until I start realizing that I'm skimming and skipping instead of reading.)
One narrative mechanic I love in A Penny For My Thoughts is a bit where you pause at significant moments and ask two different players what might happen next. One player suggests a thing, then the other player suggest a different thing. Then the player we're focusing on chooses one of those two events to be the true one.
It's very simple, but it creates interesting narrative easily. It adds nicely to the game's dreamlike atmosphere (so might not be appropriate to all games/stories) as you have vague memories later of things that never happened. It also means that at least two players approve of and like the proposed story path (the one saying it and the one choosing it). Sometimes the options created are very different, sometimes they're nearly identical except for one small detail. But the questioner always has a choice to make.
One thing I've been doing with a lot of games that I make is combining that mechanic with a random, ambiguous input. Things like Tarot cards or pulling random words out of a hat/off a list. You draw a Tarot card or whatever, then you ask two different players to interpret it, asking how it applies to the story you're currently telling. And each offers a different story path forward. (I find that Tarot cards aren't perfectly suited for this purpose, but a similar deck specifically built for the job can be really effective.)
Swords Without Master does some interesting things with how you interact directly with the fiction, that could be used in other narrative games. Three things leap out to me:
1. Tones. In SwoM, you have two dice that represent two different tones (Jovial and Glum). whenever you narrate anything, you roll the dice and your narration has to fit the tone of the die that rolled higher. Tones are very broad, so there's almost always a way to describe doing what you want. But it focuses your attention on what you're saying, how you're describing it and how you're describing it. It forces you to think about things differently, coming up with aspects of the story or your character you might not otherwise think about. For a different game, you could perhaps use very different tones to reinforce what that game is about.
2. Structured Phases. SwoM is divided up into distinct phases, with special rules for each. Each phase tells you who gets to say what at what time. Dividing a game into different phases is as old as roleplaying (early D&D had different rules depending on whether you were underground or not), but this formalizes the idea and conveys to ll participants what is happening at each time.
3. Structured conversation. Within a phase, you follow a certain protocol for who says what when. In the Discovery phase, a player describes something their character finds, then they ask the GM a question about it, and the GM answers. In the rogues phase, you ask a player to describe their rogue doing something specific, and they describe how they accomplish that. This creates a specific dynamic, where no one player can create the whole narrative. It's a back and forth between both sides, where everyone adds a little to the story. But I can't describe my rogue taking substantial action until someone asks me to describe that. I can't hog the spotlight unless someone gives it to me. The GM can't build the plot in advance of what the players choose to discover.
I don't like swords and sorcery as a genre, but I feel like there's some interesting tricks in the game that could be fruitfully applied to all sorts of other stories.
I usually read through a game enough to get a feel for the game. (Sometimes that's the entire game, sometimes it's just a few sections to get an understanding what it's like.)
Then, if I feel the game is compelling or interesting, I put it in my "Games we might play sometime" Google doc, with a paragraph or two about what I find interesting about the game and a link to where it can be found. Sometimes, when discussing potential games with my friends, I'll share the document to them. But mostly, it's for me to keep track of games I haven't tried yet that I would like to do.
I have a friend that keeps wanting to play a pacifist, but in D&D, a game that is almost entirely made of rules on how to kill people. This is always dissatisfying to er, and this is part of why: the desired story, of a person trying to do the right thing without violence was at odds with the baseline assumptions baked into the game (e.g., that the way the PCs achieve their goals is through violence).
I think you can radically change the story a game tells on a ludonarrative level, if you reskin the mechanics and think carefully about what those systems are doing and why. Dread and Star Crossed both use the same basic mechanics of a Jenga tower, but one is a horror game and one is a romance. but both tell a similar emotional story, of rising tension over time, though the tension takes different forms. Thinking about the feeling a system gives you and the decisions it makes you make can guide you to tell different stories with the same mechanics, but only once you have a clear idea what the mechanics set out to do. (I used Cthulhu Dark for a time travel game, and it worked great, because those two story types are pretty similar under the hood.)
I almost always start with creating a new system, because I'm interested in tinkering and experimenting. The games I make usually start with a question about different ways to structure the RPG experience. "What if we have two players control one character?" "What if you use the board game Mastermind to model scientific discovery?" "What if we use this mechanic to model this experience?" etc. Then I build from there the mechanics needed to support that idea.
I usually only use an existing system when the initial question/experiment relates to the system's base system. "What if you used Cthulhu Dark to model time travel?" "How much can I remove or change from this game before it stops being recognizable as a hack of the original?" "If I stick this subsystem from game A onto game B, will that make the experience we want?"
The advantage of using an existing system isn't that it's simpler. It's not. You still should be doing the hard work to understand each component and critically examine it and think about the role you want in the game, just the same as you would have to do if you were making your own game from scratch. But it has the advantage of learning about a different designer's thoughts. Taking apart their game and rebuilding it opens you up to ways of doing things you wouldn't think of on your own.