Tag Archives: write – design – program

Let’s Write Some Statistically Average Jokes

The AGBIC game jam is fast drawing to a close, and I need to put some statistically average fake band names into the game, because that’s the entirely optional theme for the year, which means we’re doing it! Time for some statistically average jokes!

Like our bad space-themed jokes, these band names will be connected to items you find on the red planet, and we’ll try our best to be funny.

Or at least punny.

Pun and Games

Here are the newest additions. The words in bold are the statistically average band names:

  • You pick up a bottle of lactate- concentrate. The label reads ‘Moo Gourd, rich in Calcium, the other Vitamine C’.
  • You discover a crumpled copy of Football Scoundrel. The cover story reads ‘Tottenbacon’s Runaway Season’.
  • You find a stash of rolled-up Flamboyant Lifer magazines. Rich humans sure know how to live.
  • You pick a thin cardboard sleeve out of the dirt. It appears to contain an audio recording of the Ferry Destroyers. By the picture on the cover, it seems they dislike barbers as much as crossing channels.
  • You find a dusty magazine entitled Apes Spanks. Thinking it better not to ask, you quickly atomize it for parts.
  • You find a jar of Nut Rebuild, but it’s empty.
  • You find a card depicting a gloomy castle. It has Strength 10, Vitality 12, and Endurance 17. Apparently, you’d need more of these to play Fortification Addict.

space rocket travel

    • You recover a copy of Dunk Racket from the dirt. This audio-visual ‘comedy phenomenon’ stars Wes Haroldson and Woopy Pipes.
    • You pull a small, hair-covered jacket from the dirt. It appears made for an Earth-pet and the label says Ensemble Basset in Earth-glyphs.
    • A newspaper clipping lies in the dirt. It reads ‘Naturalization Loan Rollout Begins’.
    • You find a pamphlet for ‘Safari Ski Holidays in South Africa’. The tigers really look like they’re enjoying the hot cocoa. The sales blurb promises ‘Extravagant Thrills‘.
    • You pick up a postcard depicting a human male and female riding in an expensive-looking air vehicle. It says ‘the all-new Clove Beamer is a ride of a lifetime.’
    • You pick up a well-worn issue of ‘Impostor Smut‘ from the dust. Humans are into some weird things.
    • You find a small plastic card labeled ‘Hedonist Credit, redeemable in stores nationwide’.

Well, that was utterly ridiculous. I hope you’ll join us for more, soon.

Why I Almost Quit the TTRPG Industry

The table-top roleplaying games industry is notoriously tough. Keep your ear to the ground and you’ll hear, now and then, the hasty footfalls of an RPG designer rushing for the door. Burnout is usually the cause. I was at the edge of that precipice, and I almost quit the TTRPG industry, and I’m here to tell you my story.

I’ve worked in the TTRPG industry for five full years now. Some of my time is spent on other work, but I’ve picked jobs carefully to build my career with experience that’ll feed back into RPG design and writing. These years were only possible because of another five years spent preparing to go full time. So why, if I’ve fought so hard for this, would I be ready to let it all go?

Cruel Trinkets of the Mad Gods

An Honest Picture of Success

To understand that, we need to talk about success. What does success in the TTRPG industry look like? Is it working for Wizards of the Coast, or having your name on a hardcover? Maybe it’s earning enough that you can quit your day job?

In my view, success is all about sustainability. Does your work support you? This isn’t just about money, although money is a big part of it. Sustainability includes the actualization of your goals. It answers questions such as “Will I, one day, have my name on a hardcover?” Your sense of worth is also important; “Do I make great content that people enjoy?” Then there’s fair remuneration; “Is my hard work being adequately rewarded?” Rewards include money, buzz, positive feedback, and players sitting down to play your games.

Ultimately, is all the graft, the grind, and the stress, paying off? If it is, then your work is sustainable and you’re successful. If not, then the job will eventually beat you down, you’ll cut your losses, and beat an expeditious retreat.

Hard trials are going to come along, no matter what you do. If anything, I didn’t always have the maturity to face those trials and pull through, so each hit became a personal burden (or grudge) that grew heavier and heavier with each setback. On top of that, as Freddie sang, “… bad mistakes, I’ve made a few.” This reached its ugly head when I had a run of flops with products I really believed in.

It has taken me months to recover from burnout and get excited about producing RPG content again.

But I’m committed to learning from my mistakes and doing better.

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
to get insight rather than silver!
— Proverbs 16:16

Last night I was reading a Batonga story to my kids about the dung beetle. In it, Butterfly tells Dung Beetle that if she doesn’t try, she’ll never succeed, but if she tries, she might (When Lion Could Fly and Other Tales From Africa).

So I’m sticking around because I know I can do better. Even after five years, there’s still so much to learn, and I’m enjoying being a student of game design and the TTRPG industry. Even my many failures are not a loss, because they give me something to build on that I didn’t have when I first started out.

The name of the company makes a lot more sense now too, doesn’t it? I hope you, too, can rise like a phoenix from whatever setback life has thrown at you.

Build a Minis Game, Ep. 3 – Movement – MM 44

It’s Mini Monday, where I share customizing, scratch building, kitbashing, and miniature painting projects for your roleplaying and tabletop gaming. This week we’ll add movement to the skirmish minis game we’re building and we’ll try out a new prototype of the game. Mini Monday Logo Our little game is coming along, we’ll be half finished with writing it up by the end of this article.

Now, let’s consider how far minis move in our game. We also need to think about everything that affects movement, like terrain, and also the types of movement we’ll allow in Dagger Lords.

Episode 1: Concept and Theme
Episode 2: Initiative and Turns
Episode 3: Movement
Episode 4: Combat
Episode 5: Powers and Playtesting
Episode 6: Polishing the Game

We’re updating the public Dagger Lords game document as we go so that you can see the latest version of the game.

Dagger Lords Minis Game Logo

Actions and Free Activations

Movement might cost something — such as an action or activation point — or be free. There might be penalties (another cost) attached to movement, such as in Warhammer 40K, where some weapons can’t be fired if the model moves. In Pathfinder 2e, you have to take actions like a Stride to move, leaving fewer actions for attacking or casting spells.

Essentially, these costs are saying that it’s important for the player to consider if they’ll move or not, adding a layer of tactical depth to the game.

We might decide that everyone gets to move, and there’s no cost for doing so, but let’s consider our theme. We’re making a game about fantasy gangs fighting on the streets. It might seem great to let everyone move around for free, but then we’ll never have exciting moments wondering if a character shouldn’t have spent that extra action point.

We already mentioned Reflex Points, so why not use them as action points? I’m hoping we can build a more fluid game here than, say, Warhammer 40K or Age of Sigmar, and Reflex Points might be an ideal way to do that. We’ll get back to this in a moment.


“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. His hands can’t hit what his eyes can’t see.”

— Muhammad Ali

How far a model moves affects the game’s pacing. Short movement distances slow the game down, while too much movement will have units zipping around the table faster than bullets. In my gaming experience, most tabletop miniatures games at 28mm scale average around 5 inches of movement per move. Double that for a run. Let’s go with 6 inches for a faster game. That’s the benchmark, and some units will be slower, others will be faster. We can always tweak this value later, but let’s not waste time figuring that out now, I want to play.


In our last version of the game, our first prototype, a model could move twice if they wanted to run. Let’s formalize this a bit more by nailing down how we want to use Reflex Points. In the prototype, you were effectively getting two free Reflex Points when your model’s turn happened. You could move, attack, or do either twice. What if you got a free Reflex Point when your turn happened, but you could still spend Reflex Points outside of your turn. However, your Reflex Points would do far more during your turn. Effectively, we’d be incentivizing saving your Reflex Points for your turn.

This sounds complicated though. I’m sure we can simplify it.

What if your turn multiplied your Reflex Points. You didn’t need to spend them during your turn even, you could wait to interrupt another player, but because your turn had happened, you got a big reward. To be safe, we could double your Reflex Points and subtract one.

Turn Reflex Reward = (Reflex Points x 2) – 1

Are we making it too complex again? Maybe, but this seems like a good time to stop and try things out.

Dagger Lords — Prototype Game: Paint the Town Red

In this small tester game, the object is to paint your opponent’s minis before they paint yours. If you want higher stakes, turn the paintbrushes into vorpal daggers that send their victims to another plane. The point is that we’re concerned with moving and turn order here, combat is a super simple, one hit, one kill affair, so we can focus on the mechanics we need to test now.

Setup and Rounds

Each player controls 3 gangster miniatures, with the player representing the gang boss. A game can have up to six players. Any miniatures can be used, and for these rules, only close combat weapons are considered because of powerful magic influencing the battlefield. Each mini has 2 Reflex Points and 3 Hit Points.

The game is played in a number of rounds, and each round has three phases:

  1. Initiative
  2. Activation (Movement and Combat)
  3. Top-Up

1. Initiative

Each player rolls 2D6 for their gang. Each miniature can spend 1 of their 2 Reflex Points to add +2 to the roll. Play proceeds in order from the player with the highest total to the player with the lowest total. The player with the highest score regains 2 Reflex Points to share among the models in their gang.
Dice off for ties.

2. Activation

Each player then acts in initiative order and can activate their miniatures, one after the other. At the start of the player’s activation, each model in their gang gains a number of Reflex Points equal to the following equation:

Activation Reflex Points = (Remaining Reflex Points x 2) – 1

The minimum number of Activation Reflex Points a model gains is always 1.

To activate a miniature, you must spend a Reflex Point and can do any of the following:

  1. Move up to 6 inches
  2. Make an attack

To make an attack against an enemy model within 2 inches of your model, you much roll a 4, 5, or 6 on 1D6 to hit. If your attack hits, remove the target from the game — they’ve been painted red.

Any model can interrupt another model’s movement to perform one action from the list above by spending 1 Reflex Point. The order is decided in the order of declared interrupts, so it’s possible for a model to interrupt another model that is interrupting its turn, the player only has to declare their interrupt after the interrupting player does, and spend the required Reflex Points to do so.

3. Top Up

After all the models have activated, each model that isn’t destroyed regains 1 Hit Point and up to 2 Reflex Points. A model can never have more than their starting amount of these points.

Winning and Losing

The last gang with any remaining models in it is the winner.

Image credit: Yuri_b

More Movement Rules

We don’t want to get too big, but we need to be sure we cover enough situations to make the game complete. Following are a few more rules you can add to the prototype. Try coming up with your own rules to replace these, or cover instances I didn’t think about, then let us know what you came up with in the comments.


A model can jump 1” up and 1” forward, once, for every 4 inches they move. Effectively this lets a model clear three 1” cubes if they run, for free.


A model can vault over a 2” obstacle, once, for every 6 inches they move.


Most use one of two methods for flying: minis can “hop” and must land at the end of each movement, or they have a height indicator, which might be constant or incremental.

Let’s think of our theme again though. We’re making a street-level skirmish game, so flying doesn’t make much sense. At most, we’d expect a few characters to drop from rooftops or fly magically for a short distance, but there’s no room for wings between tall buildings, and anyone flying would have to be low enough to avoid cables, so we’ll skip flying for now in our minis game.


Since interrupting is a major mechanic, having a way to counter an interrupt becomes invaluable, and fun. Let’s add a creeping mechanic:

Creeping is a move action, requiring a Reflex Point, but you move half your movement, rounded up. If a model is creeping, it can’t be interrupted by a model that can’t draw a line of sight to it. Creeping must be declared at the start of the action.


Moving up an incline greater than 45 degrees reduces your movement to half its normal distance. In our prototype, this means models can climb 3 inches.

That’s it for this week’s go at building a minis game. Remember to check out the game and let us know if you have any other ideas to improve on it.


Apothecary Class — New D&D 5e Release

Our newest D&D class is an alternative option for the bard: the Apothecary. This class is all about healing and buffing allies by supplementing cleric spells with healing abilities in the form of potion-like concoctions.

As a special offer, we’re giving away 10 copies of the PDF for free, on condition that you’ll play the class during your next D&D session. Sound good? You can grab the book here.

40 for 40 Sale

I’m turning the big Four Oh this month, and to celebrate we’re running a 40%-off sales on many of our products on Drive Thru RPG.

40 for 40 promotional image

How to Learn any New Game Dev Skills — WDP

One of the things I absolutely love about game design is that I’m learning all the time. In this article, I’m going to talk a little about what ‘baby steps’ really mean and how you can go about learning new game dev skills — or anything else — to become a better game designer, GM, or whatever.

Write - Design - Program
Write – Design – ProgramWrite

Think about it; what do ‘baby steps’ actually mean? First of all, they’re small and slow. Baby’s don’t take steps until they’ve first managed to support the weight of their own head, roll around, push themselves up, crawl, and then pull themselves up and stand. That’s a whole lot of learning that’s happening in a brain that’s a giant information sponge — and we haven’t even taken a ‘baby step’ yet.

When babies start walking, they get everywhere, exploring the world around them and enjoying the new freedom afforded to them by their little legs. It’s fun, and the risk of falling doesn’t hold them back much.

If there’s a new skill you want to learn — and this doesn’t just apply to learning new game dev skills — then you need to be like a baby:

Have Fun

In a recent interview, with Kenny from Oh! Sheep, I talked about following your passion. Passion certainly fuels motivation, but things can quickly start to look more like work than play when the lines between your job and hobby blur. You have to keep things fun, and that often comes down to finding the fun.

If you can’t find ways to keep things fun for yourself and you’re creating games, writing for entertainment, or trying to bring joy to others, then that’s something worth investigating for yourself. Ultimately, I think it comes down to a sense of play or having a puzzle to solve. A lot of the time work throws puzzles at you, and trying to crack them can be a lot of fun.

I once asked my dad why I’d never seen the train set he had as a boy laid out before. He told me that, as an engineer and property developer, he was doing that sort of thing every day, only on a much bigger scale. His job was full of puzzles, and there was a sense of play to his work. It has kept him motivated, even after suffering a debilitating stroke.

Compete with Yourself

Unlike most of us, babies are never comparing themselves to other babies and putting themselves down for what they can’t do.

It seems even more difficult to avoid comparing ourselves these days, thanks to social media. When was the last time you came away from social media feeling good about yourself? If Twitter or Facebook left you feeling down or angry the last time you visited, what types of posts affected you and how did they make you feel, personally? Did you feel like you weren’t achieving enough? I often get that feeling when browsing social media.

The thing is to compete with yourself, not with the world. It’s far better to get better each day than to be like someone else, and it’s far less draining.

Something from nothing

That’s the motivation mostly out of the way. Let’s get practical for a moment.

Breaking It Down into the Basics

I picked up skateboarding again two months ago. I’m… not very good, but I see a lot of things more clearly now than I did when I was a kid, inspired by Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk and trying to learn to ride for the first time.

For one thing, we’re incredibly lucky to have the Internet and sites like YouTube that make learning more accessible. That doesn’t mean that all of the content is good, accurate, or useful, but we can easily skim through basic information in a couple of minutes, assimilate and process it, then apply it.

Most YouTube videos (and posts like this one) tend to provide the surface information, and you have to dig deeper to gain true mastery. That’s true of many books too, but we have to be aware that we’re only scratching the surface.

As an example, something that doesn’t come up much in videos on skateboarding is how important it is to get the basics right. Yes, many videos talk about where to put your feet for a trick, but few people are talking about getting comfortable on your board, riding in different stances, riding backwards, getting comfortable turning, stopping, and generally mastering the basics. Nobody thinks these basics are cool. Maybe they’re just seen as the gateway to becoming a real skater. Even though these skills are fundamental to being able to skateboard and the best skateboarders have mastered these skills.

In Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else, Geoff Colvin talks about deliberate practice, and a part of that is getting the right practice for your needs. This, I think, also means not getting too far ahead of yourself.

I recently read an article about a martial artist that spent lockdown practicing footwork, the “literal foundation” of martial arts. He listed three goals he had:
1. Be comfortable with either foot leading.
2. Be able to stop instantly without losing balance.
3. Maintain a good posture throughout his movement.

By focusing on these basics he was able to improve a vital element of his martial arts skill, train using his limited resources, and overcome bad habits.

Image Credit: Drew Beamer
Image Credit: Drew Beamer

In short, you have to look for the pillars of whatever skill you’re learning, then seek to master them.

In coding, this might be understanding the logic of if else statements and other general coding principles before trying to master the whole of Java.

In writing, knowing how to write good, grammatically sound sentences has made it far easier for me to deal with the complexities of storytelling and composing larger pieces.

When I first started skateboarding, I was pushing mongo, which is generally considered the worst way to push a skateboard around. It never felt comfortable and it caused all sorts of other issues. Since starting again, I’ve focused on the basics and seen much better growth. Skateboarding now feels like something that’s possible, rather than an impossible pipe dream.

Not saying I’ve cracked the code or anything, but it certainly seems there’s a lot of worth in having a good base to any skill you want to master.

#RPGCon is Wrapping Up

Rising Phoenix Games’ #RPGCon has been a real blast, and we’ve loved sharing every minute of it with you. We’ve already begun discussing plans for next year, so hopefully #RPGCon will just grow and grow. Thank you all so much for your support!
Rising Phoenix Games Con
You can still find all the articles, interviews, and discounts on the  #RPGCon Homepage. Many of the discounts are ending today and tomorrow, so this is your last chance to buy great supplements for Pathfinder 1e, D&D 5e, and some excellent stand-alone games.

Good Fantasy’s Secret Sauce

Understanding the answer to the question — what makes good fantasy — is the key to unlocking the potential of the fantasy genre. If you’re a GM, a writer, a designer, or a consumer of fantasy products then it’s a question worth figuring out.

The Key to Good Fantasy

What Makes Good Fantasy?

Or, better yet, what fantasy works inspire you? I’m sure your answer’s going to be way different from mine. There’s a glut of fantasy content out there — movies, books, games, RPGs — and not all of it resonates with everyone. Even the cream of the crop isn’t going to fire everyone up. The World of Warcraft is plenty of fun, but it isn’t inspiring me or fueling my storytelling. On the other hand, whenever I dive deeper into the world of Warhammer, including the newer Age of Sigmar, I come up wanting to create more fantasy. The Lord of the Rings and The Children of Húrin did the same for me, as did A Song of Ice and Fire. Not every book by Tolkien or Martin stirs my soul though. I still think The Silmarillion is possibly the most boring history book ever written.

What Awakens Your Soul?

All the works I’ve listed are masterworks, crafted by some of the world’s most skilled storytellers. They figured out how to capture our attention and take us on a journey.

For me, the gritty darkness of the Warhammer world and the Mortal Realms is real and alive. Tolkien’s world exists just as vividly in the text as in the recent movies, and Martin’s characters live and breathe from the pages. This believability draws us in, and once we’re hooked, the real magic can happen. Literally.

I’ve read bucket loads of R. A. Salvatore’s Drizzt novels, but they never turned me on. I think it’s largely because of a superficiality in the books that remind you that you’re reading a fantasy novel. The books are hugely popular, sure, but not groundbreakingly good.

Real Unreality

Crafting something believable and then adding the magic gives us a relatable anchor that draws the audience in. When the paladin gets lost in a bustling city market we can sympathize, then enjoy the wonder when she meets a vendor selling a magical phoenix.

The Trouble with RPGs

RPG monster manuals, bestiaries, race guides, magic item lists, and spell books are full of fantastic goodies by design. It’s tempting to dish up great big helpings from these resources, but we’ve got to keep the human element front and center if our players are going to buy what we’re selling.

Even a goblin campaign needs relatable elements: check out We Be Goblins and We Be Goblins Too from Paizo and you’ll see some interesting tricks used to pull human players into feeling for the monsters they play. Partly this is done by keeping humans out of the goblin’s path, because we don’t want a part in the death of innocents.

Lure and Switch

The realism makes the fantasy work. We spend quite a bit of time with Bilbo and Frodo at the start of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies because they’re so relatable. Dragons, magic, elves, and demons all work against that backdrop of humanity, and it’s the GM/writer/designer/storyteller’s job to weave this humanity into everything we’re selling. That’s the key to good fantasy.

Till next time, play good games!

Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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Children of the Fall — Design Insights

In this edition of Write – Design – Program we’re chatting to Gareth Graham of Frenzy Kitty Games about his latest Indiegogo campaign for Children of the Fall.

The cover of Children of the Fall.
The cover of Children of the Fall.

Rising Phoenix Games: Hi Gareth. First up, can you tell us a little more about Children of the Fall?

Gareth Graham: Hi Rodney. Thank you for inviting me to feature on the blog. Children of the Fall is an apocalyptic story game for 3–5 players. In the game, the players play as the sole survivors of a terrible apocalypse that has turned all the adults on the planet into evil, bloodthirsty savages. In addition to portraying their characters, the players will also need to manage their tribe and haven — fighting off the terrible atrocities that exist in this broken new world. It is a GMless game and has an improved system that is built on the mechanical skeleton of my previous big design, KARMA. Each session is framed around a mission and the world is built collaboratively by all the players through an extensive session zero. Children of the Fall also offers support for campaign play as well as one-shots. There is a huge variety of different missions and characters which are all customised every time they are used, meaning the game has a lot of replay potential.

RPG: You’ve already achieved some of your stretch goals. Where is the campaign currently sitting and what can fans expect once the next stretch goal is met?

Gareth: The campaign got off to a bit of a slow start, but we have successfully funded and unlocked our first stretch goal. Future stretch goals include new character playbooks, missions, and improved quality of the printed materials.

RPG: Frenzy Kitty Games has several apocalyptic survival horror titles, including Dusk, Downfall, Unchained, and a few of the modules in KARMA: A Roleplaying Game About Consequences. What is it about the genre that inspires you?

GG: There is something about this particular genre that excites me from a gamification perspective. What’s great is that it is rich with opportunities to create narratives that are dripping with tension, drama, and high stakes. It also allows the players to get into the action straight away, starting scenes or sessions in-media-res. In my opinion, the best stories are those of characters overcoming truly terrifying and seemingly insurmountable challenges (or seeing them die trying).

RPG: As a designer, how has Children of the Fall allowed you to dig deeper into apocalyptic survival horror? What can fans of the genre expect from the game?

GG: One of the design goals I had with COTF was to really emphasize the struggles that these characters face as children in a deadly and dangerous new world, and the scarcity of resources that are slipping through the character’s fingers as they and other tribes fight over supplies. The engine was mechanically designed from the ground up to tell these kinds of stories — stories of desperate measures in desperate times. The complication system has been weighted to make characters succeeding in difficult complications something rare and truly worth celebrating. The players also have story points which serve as a metagame currency to allow the players to possibly affect other player’s scenes — and this resource is limited and invaluable — emphasising the scarcity and helplessness that these characters must be feeling as children in a world hell-bent on wiping them out. It’s not all hopeless though — players also each get one Determination and Helix point which allow them to flip a result on its head and add great twists in the tale.

RPG: The art from Vincent Sammy really fits the theme and the mood of the game. Can you tell us a little more about their involvement with the project?

GG: I’ve known Vincent for years — we worked together on DUSK and in my opinion, nobody does dystopian art like him, so when it came time to make Children of the Fall he was my first choice. One of the things I love about Vincent is that we are both on the same wavelength — something I’m not extremely good at is writing up briefs for art commissions, so I explained the setting to him and told him to let his imagination run wild — and the images he has created for COTF are better than I could ever have hoped for. He’s also from Cape Town, so it’s great to have a product that is proudly South African.

Click here to see the image in full screen.

RPG: This isn’t your first Indiegogo campaign, following the fully funded KARMA: A Roleplaying Game About Consequences. What, if anything, did the past campaign teach you and how has it influenced the Children of the Fall campaign?

GG: The two main lessons I learned from KARMA was to set a more achievable goal and to make the campaign only 30 days (as opposed to KARMA’s 60-day campaign). Setting a lower target allows you to fund quicker and to get into that delicious stretch goal territory which is why people really decide to back crowdfunding campaigns in the first place.

RPG: You’re from the “Mother City” of Cape Town, South Africa. What’s the gaming scene like there?

GG: The gaming scene in Cape Town is great. It’s grown exponentially over the last 5 years, with gaming stores, cafes and conventions becoming more and more commonplace. One thing about Cape Town’s scene is that it is still a little more fragmented than I would like. Hopefully, as the conventions become bigger and more popular they will help to solidify connections between different gamers and game groups.

RPG: And yourself? What are you playing, what’s inspiring you as a designer, and where can folks find you and Frenzy Kitty Games?

GG: I’m diving into John Harper’s stuff a lot at the moment — Blades in the Dark and Lady Blackbird are absolute masterworks. There are lots of indie RPGs that just get me excited — I love the whole DIY mentality of indie game design. I’m also very interested in a lot of the OSR stuff that’s been coming out over the last few years — that feeling of nostalgia with modern design sensibilities is hard to beat.

Thanks Gareth and good luck with the campaign.

If you’ve got questions for Gareth then put them in the comments below. Be sure to check out Children of the Fall on Indiegogo and Frenzy Kitty Games on Drive Thru RPG.



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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Running a Con Stall, an RPG Publisher’s Contemplation

Running a con stall makes sense if it’s right for your business. In this Write – Design – Program post we look at the business of RPG Publishing and how to best sell your books and games at a geek or gaming convention.

Write - Design - Program
Write – Design – Program

2018 is in full swing, and the big geek and gaming cons draw rapidly closer. It’s decision time; do I run a stall this year, or let some great opportunities sail by? Being visible at some of the major local conventions could be a big game changer for my fledgeling business. But it could also be disastrous?

Prepare yourself for some doom and gloom.

Some Facts About RPG Publishers

Intelligent publishers plan their con involvement wisely.

I do a fair bit of freelancing in the gaming industry, and, although most of it is in table-top roleplaying, I’ve also worked with digital game publishers. No matter what type of games the publisher is involved with, they choose which cons will give them the best bang for their buck. Sometimes, this means they don’t have a convention presence at all.

The thing is, if a 3 x 3-meter stall at a con costs $215 for the weekend, then you have to ensure you fill it with enough merchandise to cover the vendor free, plus all the other expenses you’ll incur.

Let’s look at my situation, as a small operation:

  • Although I work closely with several people, I’m practically the only staff member I have available. I would need to hire someone for the weekend or beg a friend to help.
  • I sell digital books, so I’d need to either fork out cash to print up stock or devise some clever way of selling digital products at a convention that may or may not supply WiFi to its vendors. Either way, I’d need plenty of products to ensure I end up in the black.
  • I have no buffer if things don’t work out. Anything I put into the stall needs to work, repeatedly, for any other con I attend.


Some Facts About South African RPG Customers

I make very little money from local sales, and I don’t suspect that a con would change that.

Here are my observations:

  1. Most role-players don’t attend cons. Of the three groups I play in, only four other people attended the biggest local con last year. That’s about one-quarter of the players.
  2. A very small fraction of role-players play at cons. Over two days I played one small demo game, with players who now play in my Monday night Stranger Things campaign. The Pathfinder Society game I prepped never had any players sign up and general morning game attendance was poor. But, okay, that was one convention.
  3. Con players are a staunch group of die-hards. After five years in Japan, I was surprised to see the same faces, without much new blood at the tables. Don’t get me wrong, many of those die-hards are my friends, but maybe we need to do more to encourage new players.
  4. South Africans don’t have money. Okay, I’ll admit, a big generalization. But the Rand/Dollar exchange rate is only just improving, and high shipping rates mean that POD from sites like Drive Thru RPG is unfeasibly costly.


The Other Options

I am new to this game, so only just learning what it takes to succeed at RPG publishing. But it seems that there are two tried and tested options worth considering:

Demo Games

Running a demo at a con seems like a great way to sell to the people who matter; those players who’ll go back to their group and evangelize your offering. Besides the networking opportunities, it’s a great chance to improve your pitch and get some game testing in. GMs are always needed, so it’s likely that you can run your game without having to pay for a table.

Shelf Space

It struck me, while writing this post, that the best option is the one most publishers use: shelf space. There’s probably an industry term for it, but having other vendors sell your books is ideal. If I can put 2–3 copies of my best books in the hands of vendors, and have them sell them, I can limit my risk, reach customers, and test the market.

And the best part? I can action both options at the same time, and each option has the potential to benefit the other. Win-win.


Rodney Sloan
Rising Phoenix Games

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Write – Design – Program: 1 Year in Games

July 25th, 2017, marked a year since I finished 5 years of teaching in Japan and began working full-time in the games industry. That’s 1 year in games! It’s been an up and down ride, but I’ve learned so much. Here are some of my reflections.

Write - Design - Program
Write – Design – Program

Once Upon a Career Crisis
In 2011 my wife and I left for Japan. I didn’t like the route my career was taking—working predominantly in web design. I felt I could do more elsewhere, and wanted out. Five years later I walked out of the classroom and into the games industry.

Go. Go Now
I started Rising Phoenix Games on the last day of 2010. Over the next five years, in my free moments, I worked hard to learn my craft and build the company. When I realized there was only so much I could learn on my own I started freelancing, which taught me loads more, but also brought new opportunities my way. None of that would have been possible without the five plus years of banging on my craft.

Starting and starting early was critical.

Incarnate Hybrid Class Cover

Build a Runway
Jake Birkett (Grey Alien Games) mentions this principle in his GDC talk, How to Survive in Gamedev for Eleven Years Without a Hit. A runway—or savings—helps you weather the time between project launches. I’m not a big drinker, never smoked, and love a bargain, so was able to step away from my last job with enough money to see me through till sales came in. There were sleepless nights, but it really helped. I still relish the opportunity to save, and am busy installing a rain water tank to cut down on our utility bill.

More Money Saved = More Money for Game Dev.

We had this slogan at the summer camp I worked at: “TEAM: Together Everyone Achieves More.” Cheesy, but true. Partnering up has, in every instance, taken me further than I could have gone by myself.

Because of this, being a team player is important. Time is short, and people want to work with someone they know has their back and will deliver.

Together Everyone Achieves More.

I aim to stay in the games industry,  one, five, ten years and longer. Write – Design – Program is part of that, because this series is all about sharing insights. If you’re working in games, tell us what’s working for you.

Rodney Sloan is a game design, writer, and programmer at Rising Phoenix Games, a line developer for Steampunk Musha at Fat Goblin Games, and a freelancer. You can find him on Twitter.

Write – Design – Program: Lets Chat

Let’s talk about making games.

Specifically, writing for games, designing games, and game programming.

These are the three areas I’m excited about, thinking about, and working the hardest to improve on.

Let’s open up the conversation, talk about the journey, about learning new skills, grabbing opportunities, and making better stuff.


Blogging makes the most sense to me. The medium has to allow for the conversation to happen.

Facebook also makes sense, because it’s where most of us lurk. Facebook can feed into the blog.

BUT! I don’t want to be another voice on the Internet claiming to know stuff.

I’ve met so many great people who are doing good work in the games industry, and it’s them, you, who would make this worthwhile.

I want to tap into the brains of better people and learn from them, grow, and be challenged. I’m calling you all out, because you’re doing good work and have something to share.