Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Tankard Tips and Broadsword Basics

Before I begin, I just want to reassure my readers that this blog hasn't completely deteriorated into me just mouthing off about my RPG-in-progress. Posting has been slow here anyhow, but next week I'm on vacation and I hope to generate a fair amount of content that I'll be putting out here. So never fear, more blather about this, that, and the other thing will be forthcoming.

Also, I want to thank the couple of people who have made use of my new e-mail link to drop me a line personally. If you are so inclined, you can find it under my profile page. I'm usually pretty fast on the replies during the work week from 9 to 5 EST, but after those hours, it might take me a day or so to get back to you, but as long as you're not being a total wanker, I will be sure to reply ASAP.

Now, on to the article. After a lot of thinking about the replies I received on the issue of "professional" vs. "personable" tone in RPG writing, combined with reading through Rob Lang's timely "Guide to Organizing your RPG" over at the Free RPG Blog, I began to put a lot of thought into the "voice" of my RPG. Too friendly, and there will probably be a lot of blather amongst the rules that'll clutter up the works. Too dry, and it'll be a snorefest of rules without any character to show them to be a product of my imagination, invoking the kinds of ideas that I want the game to impart on the readers/players.

So what to do?

More than once, the idea of "sidebars" came up. Some games are really good with sidebars and/or "boxed text" - copy that is somehow separate from, but related to, what is going on at the same location in the body of the rules. I find that both GURPS and Basic Roleplaying / Call of Cthulhu make great use of this idea, as do a number of other games. Another great place I find this technique used is in those "Dummies" books - "Windows for Dummies", "World War Two for Dummies", "Fishing for Dummies" etc.. It is actually the Dummies books method of handling text boxes - themed boxes that appear repeatedly throughout the text - that gave me the idea for Tankard Tips and Broadsword Basics.

Tankard Tips boxed text is where you'll get my "fireside chats" on the game, and the reasons behind the decisions - the "director's commentary" or design notes, if you will. Here I hope to impart some of my reasoning and my gaming philosophy, if you're willing to let me get that soapbox-y. While I don't believe in taking the old System Does Matter adage to the extreme, I do believe rules sets are like tools in a toolbox, and as the GM your job is, in part, to pick the right tool for the job. What you'll find in Tankard Tips is my attempt to help determine if the Tankards & Broadswords RPG is the right tool for the gaming job you have in mind, and if it is, how I personally would recommend using it to get the job done.

Broadsword Basics serves a much more utilitarian role. One idea I also saw coming up a lot was that not only should there be a brief list of a section's contents at the beginning of each section, so the reader knows what to expect (this being separate from a table of contents), but that at the end of each section there should be a summary of the rules and ideas covered in that section. Broadsword Basics will be a very stripped down, no-fuss no-muss summary of the rules provided in that section, laid out bullet-points style, so that if one has to refresh themselves with a rule, rather than flipping through all the pages of that section, you'd only need to consult the Broadsword Basics. I might also take all the Basics sections and bundle them together as an appendix to the game at the end of the document - something that could be printed out separately and kept as a sort of rules primer or reference sheet floating around the gaming table.

I feel that these two ideas with both help give my RPG a more personalized "voice", but at the same time, save that voice for those areas where it is appropriate. As one person noted, it's sometimes best to keep the rules clear and concise, and the fluff kept safely out of the way where it can't slow you down if all you need to do is find rule X in the middle of a game.

Opinions? Too gimmicky (perish the thought), or just gimmicky enough? I hope to provide a couple of examples in the days to come.


Timeshadows said...

I'm not as keen on the sidebar ideas, but I do use the Section Contents and Summary in my designs. I think it really aids faster navigation and comprehension.

As far as transmitting your ideas/tips/basics, I prefer it in-line and flavouring the text, but kept on topic within each sub-section.

That's my recommendation. YMMV. :)

Ben O. said...

I disagree with Timeshadows. My mileage suggests that summaries and sidebars are useful, and your particular idea for twin types is rather clever.

Run with it. If it sucks, you can always go back and change it. You're not operating under a deadline.

Desdichado said...

Just gimmicky enough. As long as they're not too frequent and/or long, it can be a nice change of pace. For what it's worth, a lot of Wizards of the Coast books do this as well; a "behind the screen" sidebar that explains the design decision behind what the main text says, with some possible variants or alternatives you could consider for a different feel.

Timeshadows said...

I was just thinking about another option entirely, which is available in .pdf with Acrobat Reader, namely, to have the commentary in another font and colour if necessary, but have it on its own layer which the possessor may then toggle on or off.

By toggling it on and printing, they get a hardcopy of your commentary/etc., toggled off and printed is 'clean'.

If you were producing for print, it would then be a question of having two versions available (PoD would be the mots logical in this sense) with a clear indicator of which was being purchased.

Jack Badelaire said...

@Joshua - thanks for your comments. I'm one of those people who likes to know the decision making processes behind the decisions, both in terms of RPGs and Wargames. Games Workshop often publishes "Design Notes" for their new editions and Codicies, and I really like reading through them to get a feel for what their intentions were during the design process and what they are trying to emulate with the rules designs.

@Timeshadows - This is actually a pretty interesting idea. I've got Acrobat Pro at work and I'll have to give it a try and see how easy this is to accomplish. I've got no intention of selling this (I'll be shocked and rather amazed if anyone even PLAYS it, never mind shells out money for it), so it'd be designed as a PDF primarily meant for printing. However, the "toggle" idea is appealing...

Timeshadows said...

Cool. :)
Word Verification-
* Drovice: A department of internal security forces that deal with trade and services deemed too disruptive even to wicked subterranean Scottish elves.