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Tips and Tricks of the Trade Discussion

A topic by BirdTerizu created 71 days ago Views: 368 Replies: 7
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Hi all, 

I'm Bird, and have dabbled in tabletop for awhile, mostly creating my own resources for games.  I mostly lurk in the community, listening  on twitter and discord. Most of my writing is science fiction.

I thought it might be helpful to have a tips and tricks discussion to share knowledge among one another on ways to write tabletop games and resources. Pitfalls folks have noticed and ways to avoid those. Tips about collaborative storytelling and how to direct that toward a positive experience for all players. And really any sort of shared knowledge about writing for tabletop gaming and physical games in general.

What say you?


From my limited experience with hacks I would say dont be afraid of moving away from the core game. Get rid of anything that doesnt fit what you want to accomplish with the system. 


I've found the most useful tool for me is iteration and rapid playtesting. That is to say - get something, some basic grounding, of your game ready and working as quickly as you can. Don't sweat bugs, presentation or gaps in the design so much, just get something written. Then play it, write down every comment you get, and revise. Obviously this has a couple requirements - you need a regular group who's willing to play your half-baked nonsense of course! - but you get a really dynamic flow and ideas get tested very quickly, refined where the work and jettisoned where they don't and you'll find you often only discover ideas during play.

This isn't for everyone, and I've also seen some people just knock out the best games ever in a draft or two before any playtesting at all, but for me, constant iteration, rapid design gets the results.


A while ago I wrote about a technique I call scaffolding which is consistently powerful for my own work. It might help others.

The design keyword at my blog has other ideas as well.

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This was a really informative read - thanks! It’s way too easy to sit on projects till the whole picture is ‘ready’. Usually that means I get hung up on a particular design challenge and the whole project dies. This is a good tool for breaking through that tendency!


Seconding the idea of just getting stuff to the table, individualizing it, throwing out the mechanics that don't work for you. Stuff can always be added later so get a first draft that has your vision and start playing with it. People more experienced than me espouse the idea, so I'm encouraging this.

Also, be willing to write a game and accept that nobody plays it. Some games matter more from the reading than the playing. This used to give me a lot of trouble until I read The Tragedy of GJ237b which is a great read but literally can't be played. If you try to play it, the game ends. It's weird and interesting. Like how not everything Da Vinci designed was built. This is ok, this is acceptable, this is worthwhile. 

Finally, as much fun as it is to watch the download counter on itch, try not to. It's too easy to connect your worth as designer with how many people are downloading or reading or talkign about yoru games nad that's just a recipe for disaster unless you're lucky and get an instant fanbase. Then it's a recipe for delayed disaster. So, you know, be kind to yourself and accept the worth in what you do.


This is all great tips and ideas on how to design and work through the challenges associated with designing! Thank you all, and feel free to keep the tips and tricks coming. 

I really like the idea of scaffolding in order to test a specific mechanic or design element with players. This sounds like a great way to determine how best to develop that mechanic further, or if the idea needs to be revised entirely. 

I'm a huge lover of world-building, and I saw one game -- Iron Edda -- that approached the worldbuilding through a fascinating mechanic of  building it with the players themselves. There was a mechanic to it and a set of tables to help generate ideas. I like this sort of approach to keep players feeling like they are really helping to form and build the story and world along with the GM.

So question: How does worldbuilding elements come into play in your designing? How do you deal with that aspect? And how do you deal with the impact the environment of the world can have on players?


First my tip/trick: Think about what you want to add to the conversation.

  • What do you care about?
  • What do you want to express?
  • What do you want to see more of in the scene?
  • Why are you making what you're making?

I've slipped up on this recently with my very impatient design process and it has caused me a lot of anxiety. 

Second wordbuilding: My games generally use worldbuilding to set tone and send a political message. Alone in the Beautiful Dungeon is an anti-colonialist, anti-hierarchical game. A redecorated treasure room had no place, a well kept one and a repurposed boss room did. Alone Sharing Spells With Others needed a light toned framing to show that community and creativity have inherent value, rather than the dire one I started with.

Something important I've gotten from the Design Doc podcast is that, if you're getting the group to do worldbuilding together, you need to make room for quieter voices. Setting Elements in Belonging Outside Belonging comes to mind. Whoever starts with one has final say over its desires, and during play each player knows to stick to their element and not step on others toes.