Saturday, June 26, 2010

Actual Play Follow-Up

I find the comments to my various Open Friday posts quite interesting, because often people attempt to intuit why I asked the question, assuming that it was a "loaded" question, asked with a certain end in mind. Now, as it turns out, I frequently do have a certain end in mind, but it's typically not the one people assume.

In the case of yesterday's question, I asked because I've been working on the Dwimmermount book I'll be releasing this Fall. In its original conception, the book was meant to include six levels of the eponymous megadungeon, along with some rules modifications to Labyrinth Lord that are reflective of how I play the game, as well as new monsters, spells, magic items, and little snippets of other material generated through play. Now, every time I talk about my campaign, I get lots of questions asking me for more information about things I've not yet detailed, since they haven't yet been relevant to the campaign. There's clearly a high degree of interest in, for example, dwarves, elves, the cult of Turms Termax, and so on. I could very easily satisfy the interest in some of these questions by including wholly new material in the book that elaborates on what I've already created and there's a part of me that feels the compulsion to do so.

At the same time, I remain firmly committed to the notion of "just in time" world building. I create details as needed rather than long in advance of their use in the campaign. Anything more than that is, in my view, a betrayal of one of the foundational principles of the Dwimmermount campaign, which I intended from the start to be a kind of "stream of consciousness" exercise in creativity. As I've noted before, I can fall all too easily into the habit of creating reams of details about a setting, details I create solely for my own amusement and that have minimal -- or no -- impact on actual play. I've made a real effort not to go down that path for this campaign setting, which is why I can't tell you about the weather patterns of the world or the inhabitants of places no character has ever visited or shown any interest in researching. I can't even tell you the name of the world on which Dwimmermount is located, since I've never had cause to call it anything other than "the world."

So, in the process of putting this book together, I'm trying to do something similar: include only material that's arisen out of actual play. I'm not fleshing out the setting more in the book than I have in the campaign, despite the clear interest in my doing so. I hope this isn't too much of a disappointment to potential buyers. There's still going to be a lot of stuff in here, but it's not going to a grand compendium of The Truth™, since I only come to know the truth through play, not through planning and forethought. I asked the question yesterday, because I was waffling a little bit about whether to change my stance on this and include never-before-used setting material. Now, I'm more certain than ever that sticking to my original vision is the best one.


  1. I prefer not knowing the "truth" as it circumscribes my imagination and freedom. Not to get into the whole Matrix sucks or rules debate, but I much preferred the ending of the original Matrix movie to the ending of the third movie.

    I could imagine any ending I desired as the first Matrix movie wrapped up; that ability was largely stolen from me in movies two and three.

  2. I've got a confession, James. When we were designing the Icon System for LUG's Star Trek, we never actually played the game. Not even once. We were under the gun, so to speak, and could never justify spending time to actually use the rules we were writing. Oh, I would sit at my desk and roll dice for mock skill tests and whatnot, just to make sure the rules were working the way we said they were. But we never sat down for a game session of LUG Trek (that didn't happen until after the game was published). We relied on playtesters to tell us what was going on. I don't think this is the best way to go.

    Having read your reasoning behind asking the Friday Question, I understand where you're coming from. There is an impulse to "fill in the holes" and detail more than you have in Dwimmermount. After all, the game doesn't feel "complete" without including those weather patterns and the hierarchy of the Termaxian Cult.

    I say stick to your guns. Back in the day, products were released with less than complete information. And in those days, we simply filled in the holes ourselves. That's how we got to be creative. That's what we loved about the Golden Age of gaming. If someone's going to complain that there isn't a chart detailing the phases of the moon in your Dwimmermount book, then they just don't "get" what you're trying to do. (Perhaps an introduction detailing the mission behind Dwimmermount could solve this?)

    Resist the urge to create reams of material. Otherwise, you're just doing what every other modern game company does.

  3. One of the features of Chaosium products I liked was the "throwaway line," a passing reference to an event, place, person, &c., that isn't developed further in the book, but gives the GM an intriguing hook of his own to run with. If you sprinkled those types of references in Dwimmermount, it would be more valuable to a creative GM than a minutely developed "mega-book."

  4. RPG Books should begin and end with the game in mind.

    However, not everything in a RPG book needs to come directly from play.

  5. Another comment: I actually think focusing too hard on YOUR game is bad for RPG books.

    You need to provide material for people who play in a way you'd never play.

  6. When you worry about the need for weather patterns consider this:

    The timeline for the Third Age's last few years in the LotR uses the modern Gregorian calendar.

    Show me the person who considers Middle Earth incomplete.