9/5/11

GET RID OF DESIGN 101


Whether on blogs, message boards or Con lectures, you're bound to stumble upon design advice everywhere these days. Most of them sound like a friendly advice would, but they're put in such a way that you're a stupid fool if you ignore them, or so they say.

Yes, they're useful, if only because they question the way you design your own private soon-to-be-shared fantasy. Yet, on the other hand, they set a hype of sorts that's able, if you follow it too blindly, to seriously hinder your creativity. Designing a Megadungeon? From the bottom up, mate! A location? Where are your random tables? A sandbox? Hexes of about 5 miles, please! Into indie gaming? Your rules are bound to have teeth and a clear Creative Agenda (yes, this one takes caps, hype, you know).

The OSR, whatever that means, has broken such fixed ideas, mostly generated by the 3rd or the 4th, in the past: mandatory game balance, tailored challenges, intricate plots as the one and only good adventure seeds, etc. And now, it seems about to shape its own fixed ideas: megadungeons are a setting, read-aloud sections are bullshit, and so on.

From the very first issues of The Dragon to the latest blog debates, libraries are brimming with do's and don'ts, and among the don'ts, the ones saying “don't you begin everything at once, stupid, you're going to get lost!” is hugely popular. Right, and what's wrong with getting lost, please?

Let me tell you how I like to design my own-private-soon-to-be-shared-if-ever fantasy: I begin everything together at once. Everything. I begin with layout bits, levels from the bottom up, explanation sections from the top to the down, art research, phone calls to the copy editor, zooms in, zooms out, writing a background section, the keyed location #31, the family tree of a dwarven clan I'll never use, the stats for gargantuan goblins, new fonts, another layout, editing the last line to fit in the page, saving it somewhere, writing location #3, designing a god, tying location #3 with location #243 - not even written, possibly never will - and ringing the copy editor again.

Yes, it's all over the place and I have it all, all, wrong, as you read. I've noticed however, some interesting side effects:

1. I don't get bored, and when I don't get bored, I'm quick and eager to do more.
2. I finish what I begin. At some point, all those tiny dots join, almost by themselves, and they shape an adventure or setting that I'm happy with.
3. I'm never stuck. It's a bit strange because I've read everywhere that I was bound to be, but I'm not: it keeps moving, going ahead, changing. Of course there's a little back-and-forth sometimes and I have to cut/paste from former versions but hey, the layout's already done and it's even copy edited as I type this message – which isn't.

So, basically, I'm not saying you should do this, but I'm saying that once you know the design 101, the next step is to get rid of it.

GARGANTUAN GOBLINS
MV: 60' (20')
AC 6[13/15]
HD 7
Attacks: 1 by weapon
Damage By weapon*
ST F7
Morale 11
*And special, see below

7' tall goblins, gargantuan goblins are monstrous misshaped crimson-skinned humanoid creatures born from the failed experiments of a crazy archmage. They usually wrap their broken bodies in russet-colored soiled garments and wear armor pieces scavenged from tall human or ogre veterans. While vaguely resembling goblins, their mongrel features are scarier and instill fear, as the cause fear spell in all onlookers for 1d3 turns (individuals with more than 3HD or levels are allowed a save versus spells to resist the effect). Like standard goblins, they have infravision up to a range of 90', but seldom see the light of the sun nor hear any sound in their abyssal abodes and are slowed, as per the spell, when in full sunlight or in a very noisy surrounding. The great weapons gargantuan goblins use always cause double damage.

2 comments:

  1. Sounds like Basho's motto: Learn all the rules, then forget them. Yeah, structure and strict steps can be helpful if you are doing something entirely new or if you are stuck, but an experienced crafter/artist will internalize the rules and know when best to break them.

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  2. It's very true on the designer's side, but it's not on the commercial/market/opinion side. Because those strict steps are slowly becoming a canon of sorts — what! 9 miles hexes in a sandbox! — and might, at some point, bring a fashion-driven take on the product itself. That concerns me a bit. I can imagine a wonderful product with read-aloud sections scattered here and there, why not?

    To get to the point, I'm a bit worried about the "OSR" setting fixed patterns of design while I always felt the movement could be a splendid opportunity for genuine innovation (a.k.a. no fixed patterns).

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