Hamsterprophecy: Prevision

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

The Craftsman Ideal

Posted by Nathan P. on June 22, 2005

Do I need to link to the other discussions about this?

I build a lot of stuff, for theatre. I’ve started to design much of that stuff, as opposed to working off of someone else’s design, and with each design, I realize how much more I have to learn. However, I’ve pretty much plateaued in terms of my ability to physically build stuff, for the time being. That is, I know a lot of techniques, I know a lot of different tools, I know how to cut planks of wood and put the peices together to make a lot of different things. It’s figuring out what those things are, and what they mean, and how they’re going to fit on stage, and what kind of atmosphere they’re going to evoke, and how usable they will be by the actors, and how well they’ll reflect the play, and all that other design stuff that I still need to learn.

Now, I look at RPG design. I still have to learn all that stuff about what things are, and what they mean, and all that about the tools. It’s like, I’m just figuring out how to use a miter saw, or I’m figuring out what I use tapped screws for, or what color paint makes red light look sexy. Guys like Vincent Baker and Matt Wilson, as far as I can tell, know all that. They know the tools, and are experimenting with what to produce with those tools.

The difference is, in the theatre world (and most crafts), I can go and watch other plays, talk to designers, take classes, and learn from those with more experience. In the RPG design world, those with the most experience are still figuring out how to put things together – this is still a stage of innovation.

Now, there’s a finite, albeit very large, amount of ways to design a set. And if you go to a lot of plays and musicals, and see a lot of sets, you see how there’s certain standard ways to get certain effects, or to play off of certain themes. Many designs are criticized for being crazy or out there just out of the desire to be different, or to “reenvision” the show, while others can be bog-standard but be praised because they exactly work for that particular show.

We’re not at this stage yet, and I feel like it’s going to take some time. The (indie, at least) RPG community still appreciates innovation for its own sake, and we haven’t yet reached a place where choosing exactely what’s appropriate, and what works, is the goal. I’m aware that this is something that’s said a lot (you need to design to your goals exactely), and thats a great influence, but a lot of actual designs…well, yeh.

That’s my constant fear, when designing a set – am I making it this way just to be different? Am I applying this interpretation because I think that it’s something that nobody else has thought of yet, as opposed to its appropriateness? But I don’t have that fear with my RPG design, not yet. I’m still happy to experiment with things just to be different. I suppose this reflects my progression in each of these crafts, to this point.

Boy, do I have a long way to go.


One Response to “The Craftsman Ideal”

  1. JasonL said


    Don’t dispair, we all have a long way to go, and it helps that there’s a roboust community of others going through it all together, albiet at different stages of development.

    Also, I would argue that there is a place to go see how it’s done, and that place is Actual Play.

    Get copies (buy, beg, borrow, but probably not steal) of games you hear good buzz about and play them.

    It’s amazing how, if you play them, and then analyze the play a bit right afterword, thinking about what worked, what didn’t, what was cool (to loop this in with your Manifesto) and what wasn’t, will really help.

    I know that when I’ve played some of these games, Donjon and Sorcerer most recently, that analyzing the play afterword led me to some key insights about how those games are structured.

    (Donjon: unbounded player input can cause problems, so one has to be careful to set limits on ‘facts’ that can be specified. Sorcerer: transparent and equivalent currency with no break points makes for a really, really smooth system to handle any conflict without speicialized rules)

    Those insights didn’t hit me until I played the game, but then they did.


    “Oh, it’s you…

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