Tag Archives: Design

Simplify Your Design

A big part of good design is simplification.

Simplify Your Design with Icons - Classic Simplification in Design
Photo by Harpal Singh.

I often rewrite rules text, fiction, or code, and the rewrite almost always ends up a lot simpler than the first draft. Version two is often more intuitive, which is a big part of why simplification is important. If something’s too complicated, it’s hard to wrap your head around and more likely to break down.

Write - Design - Program: Simplify Your Design
Write – Design – Program

Here’s an example from my recently released Manual of Masks. The first piece was my initial stab at a magical puma mask that gives the wearer a speed bonus when they’re running:

Totem Spirit Mask – PumaWondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement)
While wearing this mask you gain a +20 ft. bonus to your speed while taking the Dash action. This bonus is doubled along with your speed as part of the Dash action, effectively giving you a +40 ft. bonus to your speed while using the Dash action only.

The rules weren’t clear enough, and another designer questioned the mechanics as well. The second piece is much clearer and takes far less space:

Totem Spirit Mask – Puma
Wondrous item, uncommon (requires attunement)
When you take the Dash action while wearing this mask your speed is 50 feet.

Less is More — Refactoring

In game writing, writing in general, and in coding, the simplest solution is always the best. In practice, it might take several attempts to find the most elegant option, which is why rewriting or refactoring is so important — it’s what makes “good enough” better. The more time you put into simplifying your work, the more it will shine.

In On Writing, author Stephen King gives the following formula:

2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%

King writes that this simple formula had a big impact on his writing and was at least partly responsible for his success. It’s not only that the formula reduces word count, but that it forces you to chuck the unnecessary baggage your story is lugging around.

Design Question: How can I simplify.

A Pathfinder Example

A lot of you may be following the Pathfinder 2 Playtest. If you have you’ll likely have noticed how Paizo has gone out of their way to make Pathfinder 2 simpler yet still as deep as its predecessor. Pathfinder 2 is essentially the same game refined through a process of simplification. The end result can be seen in mechanics like the streamlined action system and their more intuitive encumbrance system.

Some Homework

If you’re a game designer, you probably do this anyway, but next time you play a digital game, take a hard look at the menu system and the graphic user interface (GUI). Great pains are taken to keep the GUI intuitive. Explore the GUI of your favorite games and find what works, what doesn’t, and how the designers have attempted to simplify things.

Till next time, simplify your design and Make Good Games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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5 Tricks for Perfect Portals

This months blog carnival is about gates and portals, the jam to fantasy roleplay’s bread and butter. Let’s throw it open and jump right in!

1. Build Drama

Gates and portals build drama because they have potential. Something behind the lock is forbidden, and by putting a door in the PCs way you’ve wrapped a big pink bow around it. Make sure that whatever is behind the door doesn’t waste that built up tension. When a door is unlocked, the plot should advance.

2. A Level-Up Reward

In the same way, a door can be a prize. If the DC to open a door is too high for the party now, or they need a key, it lets them know that they’ll be coming back later. Give them a hint of what’s behind it to really wet their appetites.

3. A Gate to a New World

Did you ever watch Stargate? I love the idea of stepping into another world. Portals give you limitless options, so use that to really shake things up. Don’t just send the party off to a hotter climate, send them to a different planet where they can truly discover the meaning of the word “alien”.

4. Change it Up

Forget iron-bound doors around every corner. Change it up!
What would a door to the fey realm look like? Would it have wings? Would an earth elemental even bother with doors, or just shape the earth around itself?
What if a door was the reanimated skull of a long dead monster, all too happy to open up wide?

5. The Door is the Journey

Everything comes together when you make the door as much a part of your story as the main NPC or boss monster. Stargate did it well, so here’s a clip.

Remember, every door is a chance to tell a story, so tell thrilling tales.

Fantasy is full of memorable doors and portals. Do you have a favorite? Or one from a campaign? Please tell us about it in the comments.

Getting Mappy!

Today I’m going to give you some quick insights into map making, so you can make your location and encounter maps even more awesome.



Good planning is the key. Draw out a rough map of what you want in pencil, so that you can change it as you go. You’ll usually find that as you draw the map out certain things become apparent, such as a door which needs to be moved for better access or a room that is just too small for its use. Once you have the basic design, redraw the map on grid paper using an appropriate scale, you’ll find it’s helpful to refer to your rough map to get everything to fit nicely. Flesh out your map with details and make note on what you’re creating, such as who were the origional inhabitants of the place and how special features operate. Knowing what each room is used for will help you add details that make the room more alive.

Bringing it to the Table

There are a number of ways you can bring your map to the table. You might use a dry-erase board or you might want to use map tiles or draw out your map on grid paper if you want to use it as a battle map. If you’re going to use the map as a handout, a good idea is to make a GM only copy with notes and secret doors marked on it, and another players copy that only shows what the PC’s would see.

Reuse ‘Em

Seriously, as a GM you’ll be creating loads of content, and you should re-use everything, even if it’s just keeping notes on what works and what doesn’t work so you can recreate something later. As a writer of role-playing content I’ve seen the benefit of re-using something to get a better something and the time saving can be huge.

Remember that nothing exists in a void (unless you’re designing a room in a void), and there should be reasons for everything. Details like furniture, tools and even waste add meaning and make a map more real.

Do you have any map tips? Share them with us by leaving a comment below.