Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

It\’s All About Pen, Paper and People.

End Of The Line

Posted by Nathan P. on August 21, 2010

As you may have been able to tell, this blog is pretty much defunct at this point. However, I’ve decided to start a new blog that hooks into my current branding, and will cover my experiences as a designer of physical things as well as games!

The last year has been a pretty fallow one for me, game-wise, but I’ve come out of GenCon 2010 with renewed energy, and I’m starting to feel like I have things to say again. So that will all be on the new blog.

I will also be talking about stuff rising out of my experience in my graduate program as I go through the second and final year. As I go through a formal design education, I make more and more connections between my “hobby” and my coursework, and I hope to talk about both of those things.

One thing I will still be using this space for is continuing the RPG Design Handbook. I’ll post to the other blog when it’s updated, but it will remain on this blog for the time being.

The new blog is simply the ndp design blog.

Thanks again for your attention, dear reader. Onwards!

Posted in Artistry, Mission, Personal, Promo, RPG Design Handbook | 1 Comment »

Some More Words

Posted by Nathan P. on March 14, 2010

I was thinking about how useless “crunch” and “ruleslight” are as terms to describe games. Which led me to this (click to embiggen):

Play Matrix Image

This is for my experience playing these games, not a blanket "this is how these games are."

Difference between structured and “accidental” freeform is simply the difference between saying “we’re playing freeform” from the outset and playing a game with rules, but not actually using them because what you’re doing by yourselves is good enough.

Some food for thought.

Posted in Actual Play | 1 Comment »

RPG Design Handbook: Four Spheres of Design

Posted by Nathan P. on November 21, 2009

Note: This is a break from the overall outline. I’m not quite sure where it should go – maybe as the first part of “Why Design”? Maybe it’s almost an intro. I don’t really know.

Also, since I made the first post for this thing, I’ve (a) grown a lot and (b) started a Masters degree in industrial/product design. A lot of what I’m learning in school has cross-over meaning for game design – hence this post.

Table of Contents here.

Four Spheres of Design

In product design, there’s a vague categorization of design into four (often overlapping) spheres: Commercial design, Experimental design, Responsible (also referred to as Universal) design, and Discursive design. Similar trends occur among roleplaying games, and being mindful of which sphere you are designing in can be helpful both for deciding which other games to look to for inspiration and guidance, and for keeping your efforts focused on your goals.

For the purposes of this guide, I’m divorcing the terms from their context a little bit and remapping them to the roleplaying market and community.

Commercial Design

Commercial design is the largest sphere, and the best-treaded. When embarking on a commercial design, one of your primary goals is to get your game into people’s hands. Whether you expect to gain actual monetary compensation, or would rather measure your success by actual play reports, a commercial design has some kind of meaurable goal. A free game can be a commercial design, for example, if it’s designed to (say) appeal to a certain demographic and the designer wants to get the satisfaction of watching a community grow around his or her work.

However, most games that are designed with the intention of being sold have a goal of gaining some return on the money invested in production of the physical product. In traditional publishing, games are expected to bring in enough return to keep the company going; in small-press and indie publishing, the goal is often to break even on the production costs of the game without necessarily paying the author a wage or enabling them to “quit their day job.”

Commercial games tend to target a specific audience, and you, as a commercial designer, benefit immensely from having an audience in mind as you design. They also tend to be designed to be at least familiar to the “average” game consumer. A commercial design wants to stand out from the competition but not be so foreign as to require a high barrier to entry to understand (and, therefore, purchase).

The majority of game publishers are embarked on commercial design, from Wizards of the Coast all the way to the self-publisher who puts their game up on lulu.com with the intent of making some beer money on his ideas.

Experimental Design

Experimental Design is design for design’s sake, in many ways. This is where a designer takes an idea, whether it’s a clever dice mechanic or a specific way of distributing narrative authority, and pushes it to an extreme or builds a whole game around it. Many such “design noodlings” are experimental and unpublished, or are put up on the internet for others to find and experiment with.

When an experimental design is brought to market, it’s often done so in order to “shake up” the current landscape or to present a new and different way of doing things. While very few games are published in order to lose money, the success of an experimental design is often measured by how many other designers and roleplayers take the ideas from the game and keep refining them.

In the traditional sphere, games like Nobilis and Wraith: the Oblivion, while having commercial goals, also had strong experimental aspects. In self-publishing, most of Jonathon Walton’s work is expressly experimental; also any number of games that come out of contests like Game Chef tend to explore new and different ideas for the sake of it.

Universal Design

This category maps least easily to game design. In product design, this refers to design with the goal of accessibilty, or making things possible for people or communities who are disadvantaged in some way. In game design, I think this sphere covers games that are written with the intent of enabling a kind of play experience and making it as easy as possible to enagage in that experience.

Designers write these games out of love for whatever they’re doing, and then make them as accessible as possible, often for free on the internet. As opposed to experimental design, the intent is to engage with a community, not to push the boundaries of design itself; often these games are remixs or “hacks” of existing games, genres or properties, and the work itself is extremely open to people getting involved and adding new content. Also, many group design projects seem to fall into this category.

Some examples that I consider Universal design are the Red Box Hack, which was abandoned by the original designer but picked back up by other people who really liked it; fan-made free (unofficial) World of Darkness supplement Genius: the Transgression; and open game system frameworks like FATE and Fudge.

Discursive Design

This sphere of design overlaps even more heavily with the others, in that a Discursive design can also have strong tendencies towards being a Commercial, Experimental or Universal project. However, the main focus of a Discursive design is to create a dialogue around a certain point, trend or set of issues that the designer feels passionately about.

This is often done by selection of subject matter or setting of the game, such as setting the game during a war or some kind of social breakdown. Many discursive games also focus on a certain theme, such as dysfunctional relationships, the nature of judgement, or how far someone will go to get what they want. Often, the setting/subject matter is chosen in order to showcase or highlight the theme, though sometimes it is actually a counterpoint.

Many of the iconic games that come out of the focused design traditional exemplified by the Forge are Discursive games with a design intent that’s hard-coded into the design. Paul Czege’s My Life With Master is about dysfunctional relationships; D. Vincent Baker’s Dogs In the Vineyard is about judgement and humanity. Some Discursive games are more open. Burning Wheel, for example, allows the players to decide for themselves what issues they want to deal with through its Beliefs and Instincts, with the rest of the design centering on challenging those traits.

The Point

As you can see, these spheres are more of a Venn diagram. Most games that are sold have Commercial goals, even if they are also pushing an Experimental or Discursive agenda; many Discursive game are Experimental as well; Universal games can be made Commercial by packaging and selling them; and so forth.

The important thing to keep in mind is that each path entails different goals and priorities, and being clear at the beginning of your process what you are embarking on makes it easier to make design decisions during the process. If your goal is to push the boundaries of (say) character ownership with your game, maybe you don’t need to spend so much time concentrating on that hyper-detailed fantasy setting; if your goal is generate some income, maybe you need to dial back the Discursive elements that will alienate your target market. Maybe you will discover midstream that the project is more important to you because of its Discursive element, so you decide to make it open and Universal as well in order to make it more accessible.

As with everything else, having a mindful approach to what you are designing and developing your design goals clearly is the important, and difficult, first stage of design.

Posted in RPG Design Handbook | 10 Comments »

Spring Cleaning of the Soul

Posted by Nathan P. on May 3, 2009

Hello Friends!

It’s been a really exciting couple of years in the independent design and publishing scene, hasn’t it? I started getting involved over the course of 2005 and 2006, while I was developing, and then publishing, my first “real” game, Timestream. Now it’s 2009, I’ve made 2 more major releases (plus a smattering of contest entries, smaller games that I haven’t ever made public, and design noodlings both public and private); became the co-founder and co-organizer of a booth at Gen Con (Design Matters, people!); met, ate, drank and gamed with so, so many great people at conventions, meetups and get-togethers organized around our shared hobby; and made a significant amount of very dear friends. Any one of those things is a cause for celebration! The fact that I’ve managed to enjoy all of them makes me truly blessed.

But things change. My personal situation is worlds away from where I started this journey, and bound to get farther. My design interests have changed and shifted over time. My ability to participate in the online “scene” declines even as my passion for writing and publishing increases. It’s a time of flux, both for me and for our hobby.

This blog was started (in it’s orginal incarnation, over on Blogger) on June 8th, 2005. Almost 4 years ago. Insane! It was part of the so-called Forge Diaspora, at least for a little bit, as the Forge shifted focus away from endless recycling of semi-helpful jargon discussion and (back?) towards actual play, publishing, and independent design work. I wanted to talk about things in my sandbox, and there have been a number of great discussions that I was able to take part in, and even start every so often.

But now, I pretty much only use this space as a promotional tool, and there are better venues for that. My conversations about design occur in person or over email. I find it both difficult and unrewarding to keep up with whats going on in interwebsland on any kind of regular basis. And so on.

So, in short, I’m done with this blog for the forseeable future.

I’m not taking it down, or anything. In fact, I plan to do some cleaning and restructuring to make it more of an archive for things that the occasional wandering soul may find interesting. I also plan to continue working on the Design Handbook project, as that is the most consistently rewarding part of the blog, even if it is rarely updated. But, really, I don’t feel that I have anything particularly interesting to say that I’m not saying in my design work.

This coincides with my decision to rebrand my publishing endeavors and emerge as design label umbrella that will cover not just my hobby publishing, but also more varied projects that I am planning to get involved in over the next couple of years. The shift is gradual, but real. Hamsterprophet Productions will slowly phase out over the next couple of months as I get everything wrapped up and transfer over to the new brand, ndp design.

Thanks for sticking with me this far, dear reader. I really appreciate it.


Posted in Mission | 6 Comments »

Annalise Interim Edition Available NOW!

Posted by Nathan P. on March 23, 2009

Finally, a print edition of Annalise is available. Please navigate to my lulu.com storefront in order to purchase.

The Interim Edition of Annalise is a 66-page perfectbound 9×7 landscape book. It comes in 4 flavors: there are two covers (red or white), and your choice of grayscale interior for $20.00 or full-color interior for $25.00. This edition of the game contains none of the fiction or art that was in the Unbidden Guests Edition released at Gen Con, but the game text is exactly the same. All of the fiction and art that has been made public so far for the game is available for download from the website.

The Eternal Tears PDF edition is also available for purchase from lulu.

Many thanks to everyone who has bought and played the game so far, and my most humble apologies for the egregious delay in making a print edition available.

Posted in Annalise, Promo, Publishing | Leave a Comment »

Annalise New Cover Preview

Posted by Nathan P. on March 22, 2009

Annalise White Cover

Annalise White Cover

Books available soon.

Posted in Annalise, Playtesting, Promo | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Nathan P. on March 13, 2009

There’s a substantial difference between gamers and designers, or at least designers who publish.

When you play, you’re making something for the consumption of the people who are playing. The whole audience/participant thing.

When you publish, you’re making something for an audience. Full stop.

The lines blur, because they are both acts of creation. But they are not the same.

(sorry Paul)

Posted in Artistry, Mission, Publishing | 4 Comments »

Dreamation 09 Post Post

Posted by Nathan P. on February 23, 2009

Dreamation was very good for me this year! As per usual, I am amazed and humbled by all the of excellent people I got to see, meet, play with, talk to and drink and eat with over the course of the weekend.

The atmosphere was really positive and inclusive this year, I think. I think it was also more relaxed than some Dreamations past. People are a little less intent on cramming in maximum gaming, and happy to take chill time and socialize.

My games all went well. I played in a Houses of the Blooded scenario run by Tom on Friday, and it was pretty neat. I really like parts of the game, and other parts leave me a little cold, but I intend to pick up the PDF soonish. The actual scenario was really neat, though I think there’s a lot of room with that game for a more character-vs-character intrigue kind of thing.

Judd & my Agon Tournement got a little fubared by miscommunication with the scheduling staff, so we ended up with two isolated Agon slots. I ran the first one, for Judd and a new friend named Joel, and it went pretty well. Agon is a little creaky with two heroes, I think, but it was a fun game. I ran Beast of Kolkoris and I totally killed Judd’s character with a Minotaur. We called the game after that encounter, but I think I would have totally killed both of them if we had continued the quest. That’s a really hard quest! Judd ran the second one, a Quest he came up with that involved a Cyclops who forged lightning. I got to play! It was cool! Ralph won the game and I was so mad! Stupid Ralph winning. I suspect that Far-Reaching may be a little brokenzord, though. I need to take another look, but the suspicion is in my brain.

I played a game of Annalise with Kevin Allen Jr., J.R. Blackwell and John Enskot (who did NOT die in a car crash, and that was the best part of the con). It was very good. We established the beginning of a really long, slow-burning game, if we were able to keep playing. I also got a lot of good feedback and ideas about how to structure a 4-hour complete Annalise game scenario.

Speaking of, my new friend Connie ran two games of Annalise without my involvment, which apparently both went well; so did the games of carry ran by Rachel and Adam. You people are all my favorite, and I am just pleased as punch that my games are creating fun.

Overall, just excellent hanging out time and drinking time with my friends. I already miss you.

Also, Amy was the best driving buddy ever, in addition to being a great friend.

As per usual, Dreamation was a sorely needed reset button, and I’m super glad I went. Thanks everyone for doing your part!

Posted in Actual Play, Annalise, carry. a game about war., Conventions, Mission, Personal | 4 Comments »

Dreamation Aught Nine Plan

Posted by Nathan P. on February 19, 2009

  • Head down early.
  • See all my awesome friends.
  • Rachel is running one of my games! carry, 8 pm, Thursday.
  • Connie is running one of my games! Annalise, 9 am, Friday.
  • Judd & I are running Agon! Step up for the first round of the Kleos Cup, 8pm, Friday.
  • I’m running Annalise! 2pm, Saturday.
  • Adam is running one of my games! carry, 8pm, Saturday.
  • Judd & I are running Agon! Those you made it through the first round are invited to the final round of the Kleos cup, 8pm, Saturday.
  • I’m running Annalise! 9am, Sunday.
  • Connie is running one of my games! Annalise, 2pm, Sunday – a good parting gift for y’all.
  • As per usual, I don’t preregister for other games, but there is a metric fuckton of great games on the slate, and I’m sure I’ll be happy where ever I end up.
  • Indie Party Saturday nite.
  • Road trip for Pho.
  • Staying with Shreyas.
  • I will be Twittering updates from the show – follow at ndpaoletta, if you’re interested.
  • Yay Dreamation!

Posted in Annalise, carry. a game about war., Conventions, Promo | 3 Comments »

Note To Self

Posted by Nathan P. on January 29, 2009

wrt the not-so-secret project.

Weapons have three stats: Size, Reliability and Destruction. A starting weapon has one of these at 0, and you probably have some kind of points to spend between the other 2. Outside of fights, Size can apply to your skills that are of the Mind, Reliability can apply to your skills that are of the Heart, and Destruction can apply to your skills that are of the Flesh, if it’s an appropriate situation.

In a Duel, Reliability matters more than Size. In a Melee, Destruction matters more than Size. However, if you’re trying to disarm an opponent in either case, Size matters most.

You can use your Dust to bump any of the categories, with the usual caveat that once you start, it’s hard to stop. If you have a backlash from over-dusting, however, it only affects your weapon.

Weapons can have Weirds independent of you (making it a Weird Weapon), but you need to feed it Dust or Blood if the Weird is powered by either of those. Also, some Weirds require a weapon to be used, though it doesn’t matter which weapon in particular.

Posted in Artistry, Design Ideas | Leave a Comment »