Master Plan - August 2006
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Master Plan's Self-Evalution I

I've been looking forward to writing this for some time. Now that I've now got six issues of this column under my belt, I want to talk about what works, what doesn't, and what the future holds in store for Master Plan. Going to GenCon and talking with many of you fine people has helped give me an idea of where I should be going.

For those who were hoping for some more ideas and rules, we'll get back on track next time.

Project: This column, "Master Plan"
Part: Evaluation I: Six issues down
Goal: Determine what works, what doesn't, and what the future holds.

Gathering Past Data

Over the last few months, I've written on the following:

Jan '06Codifying Advanced Social Interaction (Part 1)1072
Mar '06Codifying Advanced Social Interaction (Part 2)1076
Apr '06Healing Potion Assumptions and Messing With Them375
May '06Creating a Children's Game (Part 1)312
Jun '06Adding Gimmes for God's Watchdogs235
Jul '06Creating a Children's Game (Part 2)69

I missed February because I was still getting used to scheduling myself for writing (as I have other monthly commitments, including my horror serial on The Edge of Propinquity).

"Codifying Advanced Social Interaction" was my attempt to lay the foundation for the column. As I wrote it, it grew too large to be one article. I didn't want to start my column off with a two-part idea. Originally, the first part was about 1000 words longer, talking vaguely about making up rules without actually making up any rules. However, my first-round readers said that they didn't like how I produced nothing tangible with my efforts.

Judging by the hits on those two issues, that formula worked. Looking at the following issues though, the readership drops dramatically. I wrote about messing with D&D, and I lost roughly 65% of the people who came to the first couple issues. It goes down from there, with the lowest count being about my own idea, rather than playing in someone else's sandbox.

"Creating a Children's Game" departed from the other topics is a couple ways:

  • As stated, it was a brand new idea rather than playing with someone else's work.
  • It was a board game rather than an RPG.
  • It's geared for children rather than adults.

Normally, I get a comment from at least one person with their thoughts of the column, even something as little as "Hey, cool!" Last month though, I only got one comment, and it was from one of the playtesters I mentioned. That gave me the feeling that the topic was going nowhere. I know I have some parents and teachers in the audience, and I would definitely like to hear from you about this idea.

I have to wonder where the lack of interest comes from. Evidence suggests that my readership wants me to play in other people's sandboxes rather than talk about creating my own. I'm curious how long I'll be able to keep that up, regarding material and interest.

GenCon & Open Design

So here's where we talk about GenCon. At the show, I talked with a number of people about my column and various ideas. Most of them naturally hadn't heard of it, and those that had had only read one or two issues. I handed out plenty of business cards and talked it up, because I'm interested in the many points of view.

A couple of the conversations I had at the show were about designing for my own games. I talked to several people about projects that I had in my head and want to get on paper, and they were interested to see them realized. That got me thinking about using this as an open design column, where I talk about how I'm designing some game. This would be similar to how I did Stargazers (in "Creating a Children's Game"), but with other game ideas that include RPGs.

Here are some of the ideas that have been kicking around in my head:

  • The personal horror game I described to some folks as "Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Yog-Sothoth." It's my response to games that claim to be about "personal horror," but devolve into games about superpowers and politics. I'm a fan of the sort of horror that you can't escape from because it comes from within, and have ideas on how to model dread (though doubtfully anything as mind-blowingly cool as using Jenga the way Dread does).
  • A cooperative pulp-themed adventure board game, in the spirit of board games like Lord of the Rings, Arkham Horror, and Shadows over Camelot. The players make decisions and fight battles in a sort of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style journal, and race against the clock to stop some plot or gain some artifact. I love cooperative games like that, and I love the pulp genre.
  • Back at GenCon SoCal last year, I got this idea for a miniatures war game based on origami, where the size, color, and shape of the figure determined what it could do. Seeing Vincent Baker's Mechaton at the Forge booth a couple weeks back, I remarked how the concept was pretty similar to my origami idea, and naturally I had to buy a copy.
  • At least one surprise I can't name yet, but I have at least one person very interested in seeing it happen. I'll leak this much: it has to do with podcasting.

Speaking of Podcasting...

I've finally be bitten by the podcasting bug. I've heard a lot about it from Paul Tevis, and listening to him and others talk about it at the podcasting panel at GenCon convinced me that maybe it's worth a shot. If nothing else, I can try it, and drop the idea if I don't like it.

For those who aren't aware of my background, I used to do college radio. From that and from just playing around with audio software, I knew enough audio engineering to do post-production on a CD some friends made for Christmas a few years back. So this isn't a completely new field to me.

Still, I've been wondering how well this sort of content would work in an audio format, which is the main reason I was hesitant to try podcasting this. I definitely don't want to change up the focus -- there are enough gaming banter and review podcasts out there. I also don't want to just repeat the content I have here in audio form (though, if people seem to want that, I would give it a shot).

Though I did have a concern about gaming podcast saturation. That cleared up after hearing Fred Hicks lament that there weren't enough podcasts about game design. It was as if a voice from On High was saying, "Hey, Ryan, seriously, do it!"

Which brings me to the idea: the Master Plan podcast (if I'm going to keep that name for it) will be about design in general, and will give me the opportunity to interview game designers about that particular subject. This is something I'm looking forward to trying out, though I might not get to it for a couple months (as you'll read about soon).

Oh, and speaking of Fred Hicks, I'm no reviewer but I highly recommend checking out his game, Don't Rest Your Head. As usual, I'll have a link to that in the More Information section, but I'll include links to a review and an Actual Play thread as well, since people finer than I have spoken on the subject. It has already been influential in my personal horror game.

"Staying True to My Roots"

Master Plan was born out of "I have this neat idea for someone else's game, and I love talking about how I come up with these neat ideas." I still have neat ideas for other people's games -- no man is an island, and I would be useless as a game designer and writer if I didn't look at and tinker with other designers' creations.

This means I'll still write issues about playing with another game, much like the one you'll find below. Every now and again I'll be switching topics from talking about my own game design trials (and related tribulations!) to discussing modifications of other people's games. I'm hoping to hear from you fine readers about what you do and don't like, so I can better learn what sort of content you'd like to see.

With that in mind, here are some of the ideas I have for future Master Plan issues:

  • I run into situations in my campaigns where I write up some rules that help facilitate the game somehow, either the story or plot as a whole, or something focused on a particular character. I have a Truth & Justice campaign where such a character-centric need has occurred for "supercharging" their power.
  • A discussion about system conversion and the sorts of questions and decisions that come up. This is actually the very first Master Plan ever written, where I work on converting an idea in 7th Sea to GURPS, but it ran long and I didn't want to start with a two-parter. Savor the irony.
  • Taking the idea of the traitor in Shadows over Camelot, and applying that to Arkham Horror by potentially having a PC cultist. I haven't played many games of Shadows over Camelot yet, but I have heard many good things about it and picked it up after the show. I must say that the hype about the game has held up for me and my board game group.
  • We may revisit Dogs in the Vineyard again, as one of the GMs in our group is working on tweaking the game to use it for a Gunslinger campaign (from Stephen King's Dark Tower series). That might even be my first "guest" column, if he decides he wants to write it. Of course, that could also potentially be good podcast material.
  • I have articles I've written (or started to write) for Pyramid and elsewhere that might find a home here if they don't get picked up.

Wrapping It Up

So those are the ideas I have for the next year or so of Master Plan. I love writing it, and I love hearing from my readers about what they liked, hated, found interesting or boring, et cetera. Here's where you, my dear reader, can have a strong impact: write me and tell me what you'd like to see. As always, you can reach me at -- please help justify the volumes of spam I get for having that address!

Beware the Ides of September...

...or for me, the entire month. September will prove to be an interesting month for me: I'm starting a new job, I'm moving, and I have some hefty writing commitments. It may mean that I'll miss next month's column (and definitely won't be trying the podcast idea until afterwards), but I hope to have some material prepared by then. It's not as if I lack ideas...

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