Tuesday, February 23, 2016

RM Update #6

Hello all! It's time for my weekly accountability confession.

I finished revising Character Creation this weekend. I always knew it was going to be the chapter that required the most drastic revisions, but, boy howdy, was it a monster. It's easy to forget how central any character creation system is to the mechanics of the game, but revising, adding, deleting, and proofing 20K words of it was certainly a reminder.

It's understandable. Players need information to make the character they want to play, and that information includes everywhere the character sheet touches the mechanics (spoiler: every mechanic is touched upon...that's why it's the character sheet). You've got to provide a quick reference to all those different rules without burying the text that actually get the process done. Meanwhile, you've to to recognize that the majority of potential players go for the character generation chapter before any other part of the book, so you've got to refer to all these mechanics without sacrificing so much setting information that the rules lose context and make the game seem too crunchy to a random customer.

It's an impossible task, and I will most assuredly fail it in the eyes of many readers (it's almost as if RPG players are opinionated or something). But I've slaved over it for two weeks now, using the playtest feedbacks from hundreds of people. If it doesn't work for someone at this point, it's certainly not for a lack of trying.

The above picture is actually out of date. I burned through the revisions in the Upkeep chapter yesterday inbetween taking a picture of my whiteboard and writing this post. The short section on accounting options was always going to be easiest to revise, but I didn't anticipate it would go that smoothly.

I'm working Casualties and Vectors now. As it involves adding a whole bunch of rules (Abberants weren't ready for the beta playtest, but they need to be there for round 2) in addition to revising, this chapter will probably take about as long as Character Creation did to finish. What's after that? There's not much to change about Humanity, so that will go quickly. But then Negotiation is another monster rewrite.

Thus far, I'm happy I've been alternating super-difficult revision with easy tasks that amount to little more than copy editing. Doing the easy stuff first would make rewrites like the Character Creation seems impossible. Conversely, doing all the crappy work first begs for burnout. It's all a matter of tricking your brain into doing the actual work, and I'm very grateful I had a few book-length projects under my belt before starting this thing.

Ideally, I can get the revisions done before the end of Spring Break. If I can manage that, It'll give me two months to plan the Kickstarter and write the worst part of all: ad copy. That's going to be agony, but schedule and snow days willing, I'll be able to get it done early enough that I can cleanse my palette by writing setting material for a few weeks before my every waking second gets hijacked by begging for retweets and answering backer questions.

Okay! That's all the new fit for print. The first playtest campaign -- The Brutalists -- is still being posted up at RPPR. For more "thrilling," hit me up on Twitter @HebanonGCal.

Monday, February 15, 2016

RM #5

This week's lack of progress is brought to you by Death and Taxes: specifically, because I feel like the former (flu) and had to do the latter.

Taxes are a bit of a nightmare for me. I make wages that could best be described as "rock-bottom middle class." When my freelancing work provides extra income, it typically has to go out the door the instant arrives; as an example of what I'm talking about, go read the entire book I wrote to pay for a single trip to the ER. You can't really setup auto-deduct for 1099-MISC freelancing checks, so you end up having to pay dearly for all that RPG work at the end of the year. This makes taxes really expensive and annoying, as you're scrambling through boxes of receipts so you can deduct your home office and anything else you use to run your "business" of one employee.

Still, I got some writing, podcasting, and art direction done...just not to really warrant an announcement. In the meantime, you should go read Laura B's blog. Laura's the editor of Red Markets ("God knows he needs one" says everyone who read the beta). She's also working on really great projects of her own, novelizing some of RPPR's more popular games. She introduced herself at GenCon by handing me a beautiful self-published edition of Wages of Sin, and now she's into her third draft of a novel based on The Dangers of Fraternization. Go give the lady some traffic. Her work deserves it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

RM Update #4

Howdy y'all.

I've not accomplished much on the revision front this week. If I'm being honest, I never could have kept up my previous level of productivity. Twas always a dream.

Grading ate a bunch of my writing time...and then XCOM 2 came out: a combination which is equivalent to a figure skater taking a lead pipe to the knees of sweet lady productivity.

But it's not a complete loss. I've pledged not to waste anyone's time with the latest RPPR playtest (though we are having fun). I'm always going to come to the table with something fresh to test. This week, it's the playmats.

Playmats for Red Markets are the definition of emergent play. Providing a physical drop sheet for token tracking the character sheet never occurred to me, but then Jace uploaded his to the forums (see above). Within a week, I had three other playtest groups telling me they were using them. It was a demand the mechanics were making that I'd been deaf to, for some reason. The use of physical tokens such as coins or poker chips seems to really help a certain type of player have fun, and the thematic synergy of literally spending coins on your rolls is just too good to pass up. I made up my own prototypes this morning and we'll give them a shot tomorrow.

I've also made some revisions as well. I've got a hard copy of the Character Creation rules full of annotations, but I've only made it to about page five entering the revisions electronically. This chapter was always going to be a nightmare: multiple sections -- tough spots, derived stats, retirement -- have changed completely due to playtest feedback. It's just short of a front-to-back rewrite of biggest mechanics chapter in the book. The only revision task between here and the KS Beta version that's harder is taming the Negotiation chapter, but that's a subject for another time.

Anyway, back to work. Thanks for keeping updated.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

RM Update #3

Hello all! Update time.

The Combat chapter is revised and sent off. I'm still working on the Materialism chapter, but the beta-text is revised to fit the newest iteration. I'm also fixing copy errors as I find them (thanks proofreaders!), but I'm probably creating as many new ones as I fix.

Deleting and changing stuff is easy; adding stuff slows the process down. New rules need testing, of course, but increasingly less so as the process goes on and you learn the quirks of your own system. The difficult part is working those new rules into the larger outline: do they fit best under another heading or require their own section. If it's the latter, where does that section fit in the order? How does it fit into the hierarchy of importance that a style guide locks you into?

A lot of my writing time went into rules for selling excess gear (a ubiquitous demand from playtesters) and completely rewriting the rules for Haul and Refresh. I also had to add a section on Weird Damage (suffocation, falling, etc) to Combat before I sent it off. That was strange to write; I'm not sure I've ever used such rules, as written, in any system I've ever run. The stakes are always so high when rules like that come into play, and they're such outliers that stuff like poison damage is always hard to find. I usually just make something up to keep the game moving. I certainly hope players of Red Markets do the same, but you can't put yourself in the book to run games for everyone that buys it. Some folks want a deeper investment in system mastery, I suppose, and the game is crunchy enough to justify it.

I've still got to add in vehicle rules, but that's taking longer than expected. The section needs to be short, but it also can't integrate entirely into the rest of the gear list like I'd initially hoped. That means writing a separate set of conditions for vehicles altogether, but one short enough to prevent a chapter that's already the largest in the book from becoming unwieldy. Couple these concerns with the fact that I've never read a set of vehicle rules I actually liked, and it makes for slow going.

If you're wondering what this struggle looks like, imagine me typing angrily while repeating "I will not remake Autoduel. I will not remake Autoduel. I will not remake Autoduel..."

I'm also busy with the usual logistical stuff: art direction (though a minimum because my artists are on point), licensing, pricing, playtesting, promotion, etc. At the pace I'm going, we'll make the current schedule, but it's going to be a grind. It always is, I guess, but there comes a point where you realize exactly how much is left to do. You feel it in very human terms -- hours spent alone without friends or family, invitations turned down, bleary eyes burned by computer screens, the feeling of looking at your words and hating them -- and that's the point I imagine most people stop. It's a crushing realization, and I'm glad I had it before on other projects. It's easier to overcome once you know you can overcome it.

So that's where we're at. Once the current chapter is done, I'll move to the top of the book and start marching revisions down the page. Then I need to get a website cooking and ready to go once we get some graphic design elements to establish a look. I imagine backers are going to want a better track-out link on the Kickstarter updates besides this janky blog.

I'll keep you updated if you keep my accountable. Thanks for the continued time and attention!