Welcome to my blog

On this blog you will find two types of entries. First, of course, normal bolg pots, and second, you will find articles. You can distinguish articles because they will have the label "article". The special thing about articles (contrary to my normal blog posts) is that they are longer, more thoughtful, and I will keep them updated to my current ideas and thoughts. So, because articles never get outdated, I will always encourage you to comment on them, no matter how old they are.

I hope you will enjoy my blog.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Old Race: Concept Drawing

I am working on a game called The Old Race, where you play a race called Gammirs, so I am beginning to make some concept drawing of these creatures, to get an idea of what they should look like.

Here is a drawing of a young Gammir. I now regret that I depicted this Gammir with a weapon (or something which look like a weapon), because, even though Gammir can be fearsome warriors, they normally despise violence, and war is not something which normally occurs in their culture. You should just imagine that he is engaged in some kind of fighting sport.

- Anders

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Just so you know I am still alive...

I recently made this drawing of one of the player-characters in a Warhammer Fantasy game I am currently playing in. I am reasonable satisfied with how it turned out; it is certainly much better that my drawing of my own character - which is a bit annoying.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Elements of Setting

The last post I made on The Forge about Distant Horizons, I was asking about the setting concept I want for that game. Troy Costisick replied with a link to his blog Socratic Design where he write about setting (What is Setting? part 1). When I read this I began to think about how I would categorise the different aspects of setting, and I think that my goal of doing so is a little different that what Troy are doing.

What I try here is not to list all possible element a setting or game world consist of, because I do not see this as very useful when you want to build an interesting setting. What I try here is to categorise the elements after what they do in the setting. In this way I hope that it is easier to use this to build a setting on short notice. Furthermore, I try to do this in a way so it will be interesting from a role-playing point of view; in the way that this will easily lead to situations the characters can engage in.

I have not reached this goal yet. What I do here is more like a "first thought" that have to be developed further, and I hope to get back to it in future article.

The categories

I have split the elements of setting into five categories: Facts, Rules, Relations, Dynamics and Conflicts.

This is the concrete facts about the setting. It can be geological data of different features of the land, it can be descriptions of cities and roads, or it can be facts about history and gods, or about different people and races and different creatures.

Facts only describe that something exists and where and when. That a god exists is a fact, but the religion of that god - the gods relation to people - is described in a differed category (Relation category).

Facts does not do very much in a game other than defining the basic layout of the setting. Some facts will be necessary, like what races are available in a fantasy game, but most facts could just be added during the game with very little effort, as long as the basic Rules and the important Relations are defined.

I will split this into two types of Rules; hard Rules and soft Rules. (maybe these two types should have a category each).

Hard Rules are the ones that can be described as rules of nature. This is what different things and creatures can and can not do; their capabilities and limitations, and it is the rules about course and effect as defined by natural laws. Hard Rules are rules that can not be changed and only in special cases be broken. If a hard rule is broken it will be seen as something unnatural for that world.

Soft Rules describe the general layout of the world. These are the rules that describe how the world typically looks like. When something goes outside a Soft Rule, it is not unnatural, but just strange. Soft Rules can for example be a description of the level of technology in different areas, and the typical climate and geological features. It may also describe how magic normally behaves.

Soft Rules can also be rules about how humans (and other races) behave. For example, this can be how large a typical city is in a certain area and what the normal distant between cities is, and it can be social rules that tells what is seen as normal behaviour.

For games that tries to simulate reality Hard Rules are very important, because they tell exactly how things behave under different conditions. In games that are more focused on the story and role-playing interactions, hard Rules are only used to know if you are inside the boundaries of the natural world, or outside in the supernatural, when you do your narration.

Rules are also used when the players want to add something to the world. In this case the soft Rules are the most important, because these give a better understanding of what you will typically see in a certain area.

Relations is how the aspects described under Facts relates to each other. This will mostly be social and political relation, but it could also be relation between industries, for example how mining relates to smithing, or it could be how criminals and the law system relates to each other. Relations also give the characters a place to fit in.

In social relations you should normally think of people in term of groups. This can be racial groups, cultural groups, religious groups, political groups etc.. When you define relations a good way to think about it is: How the group perceive themselves, how they perceive others, how others perceive them, and what their agenda is (if any) and how paranoid/aggressive they are in pursuing this agenda.

Relations are extremely important in a game. They describe how the characters fit into the world - what roles they can take - and they give an hint about where conflicts can arise between groups.

Dynamics are how the Relations changes. For example a friendship between two groups can become problematic and can turn into hatred. This is important because it will lead to Conflicts.

Dynamics is mostly used during a game, where they tell how things change around the characters, and how things change in reaction to what the characters do. Some Dynamics can be defined before the game; something that is about to go wrong when the game starts.

Dynamics should tie into the mechanics of the game, because it is something that happen in the game that the character should react to, and possible change.

When some relations go against each other it will result in Conflicts. I properly do not have to explain this very much, for in most RPGs conflicts are the story-driving element and therefore the core of the system.

Most Conflicts will arise doing the game, but a setting can be much more interesting if there are a few conflicts build in that the characters can take part of.

Other stuff

There are some other stuff that are important for a setting, but which does not fit nicely into the categories above.

Something that is of great importance for the story is the feeling or the mood, or the thematic idea, so these thing will of course reflect on the setting. If you want a dark feeling in a story about the struggle between hope and despair, there have to go something on in the environment that can support this, like a desperate battle between good and evil.

When you make a setting, having decided on a feeling or a theme will make it much easier to decide what should be in the setting and how it should be expressed, so it can be of great help if you want to add something to the setting.

So feeling should really be an important part of setting creations, but because it is more abstract I do not know how to put it into categories, so I am a little uncertain how to place this.

As it is now I have put history under facts, but I do not really feel that this properly tells what a history or back-story do. The history of the setting is there to explain the current conflicts, and sometimes to explain the current relations. It is also interesting to note that history that does not explain any of these two things, will really not be important for the game.

When you have a history you know what have coursed the conflicts you now face, and it can indicate where these conflicts will move things to. Of course it is not all history that are known, which will make some conflicts a mystery.


This is just some preliminary ideas, so I do not really have any conclusions right now, but I hope this can lead to some better tools for working with setting.

- Anders

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Setting Rules or Role-playing Rules

In the article "passing the role-playing experience" I talked about designing rules as the act of defining certain interactions between the players in a gaming group, and it is these interactions that will create the role-playing. But I am beginning to wonder if all the rules you typically find in a RPG rule book actually can be called rules for role-playing.

I am beginning to look at systems as describing two types of rules: There are rules for role-playing, and there are rules for setting, and, actually, in many traditional RPGs, far the most of the rules are rules for the setting.

Here are how I define the two types of rules.

Rules for the setting are the rules that describe the limitations of what you can do in the gaming world. These include rules like: Weapon damage, how (un)handy a weapon is, how well an armour protects, falling damage, how hard it is to destroy different materials, how magic works and what it can do, and so on. All of these rules will of course interact with the role-playing, but it will be no more than other rules or elements of the setting. These rules does not directly result in role-playing and they are not directly affected by role-playing; they do not interact with the role-playing.

So what are rules for role-playing then. These are rules that have strong interaction with your role-playing, by motivate certain types of role-play and can be affected by role-play. In the traditional games you will, for example, have the procedure of a combat round, which will direct your role-playing and which can be affected by your role-playing. An other example is the insanity mechanic in Call of Cthulhu which is also affected by what you do in the game, and it then affect you back. The same can be said for harmony in Werewolf and humanity in Vampire. In many indi-RPGs most of the rules are role-playing rules, for example: Keys in Shadows of Yesterday and humanity in Sorcerer and trust and dark fate in The Mountain Witch.

I really don't know what is possible to conclude from this. But it is interesting to see that RPGs that focus on role-playing rules, can be interesting and effective with lot less rules than RPGs that are based around setting rules. The reason for this is properly that role-playing rules tie directly into what is important in a RPG, and that is, of course, role-playing. Where setting rules only describe some constant factors in the world, and don't really do very much.

I am beginning to think that it would be interesting to categorise the different types of rules, and describe what effect they have on a role-playing game.

- Anders

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Passing The Role-playing Experience

I see this as one of the most important concepts in RPG design. It is closely bound to the notion that RPGs are made to be played, not just read. Role-playing design is not an exercise in math, and it is not a way for you to tell stories or to demonstrate your ability to create a ultra detailed world. No, role-playing design is about the experience of playing the game.

A design should spring from some role-playing experience that you want to pass on to other people. Maybe you have an idea that come from a book or a film, or maybe from some other game you have played, or it could be that you want to explore some moral dilemmas or thematic issues, or maybe you are thinking that some weird situations or interesting player interactions could create some fun play. And you think it would be interesting if other people could have this experience through your game.

This is properly why most artist create. They want to pass some experience on to the audience, so why should RPGs design be any different. Where other artists use paint or music or clay as a medium to communicate this experience, the RPG designers uses a very special medium that is somewhat unlike the ones used in other art forms, and that is rules. The reason why this is a special medium is, that it is not the rules in themselves that give the experience, but what the audience (the GM and/or players that play the game) create by following these rules.

Just to prevent a lot of disagreement, here will be a good place to define what I mean by "rules". Rules are the written instructions in the system. They can be hard mechanical rules, like when a die roll is successful and when it fail, or they can be procedures for what you do when, or just guidelines and recommendations to the GM and the players.

The process of trying to form the rules to communicate the proper experience, can be very hard. The reason for that is that the medium - the rules - are very indirect. The job of the rules is to motivate interactions between the GM and players, that will create the imaginary gaming space where the experience will take place, and sometimes it may even be the actual interactions themselves that create the desired effect, by focusing in on the social level of the game. Lot of this can be very hard to predict, so when you sit down and try to mould the rules, you always have to go back to actual play and ask yourself what happen when you apply these techniques to a game. In many cases you have to play-test the game to find out what interactions the rules provokes.

So what to do then? You are properly reading this because you are interested in actually designing a RPG, so how should you proceed. I split this into two steps:

  1. Make very clear what role-playing experience you want to communicate, and then split it into easy manageable parts. You can think about it like: What concepts do you want to be strongly present in your game.
  2. Then find the rules that will give you this experience, and be careful to get all the rules necessary, and then no more. You can think about it like: Find what gaming techniques that will support the concepts in your game.

These two steps are not necessarily easy, but they are really not too hard either. I will not go into too much detail now - I will leave that to future articles. Here I will just mention some of the most common pitfalls in this process.

The reason why it can be hard to find the core of what you want to communicate, is that most people design games out of frustrations. They will talk about what they do not want in the game, and things they want to fix that other games do wrong. This is a read flag. If you do this, and follow it to its conclusion, you will properly end up with a game that look a lot like the game you try to fix, just with a few differers here and there. What you should do, is thinking in terms of what you do want to have in your game. Ask yourself what you game is about, instead of what your game is not about.

Another thing with frustrations is that they make people blind, so they can not see what really bugs them. For example a frustration like: "XPs leads to power gaming, because all the players will only think about killing monsters so they can get more XPs. Therefore I don't what XPs in my game." This properly come from a GM who wants to run a political game with a lot of social interactions, and then see his game go down in flames because the players resolve all problems with combat. This is properly due to two things in the game: The rules motivate killing, because it is where you get your XPs, and there is only rules in the game to handle physical conflict, not social interactions. So obvious the players are motivated by the rules to go the killing course. The solution for this is not removing XP, but instead give XPs for engaging in political intrigues, and handing tools to the players that enable them to make social interactions. But because the GM have put his frustrations on the XPs, he is not able to see the real issue.

A lot of people begin to fiddle with systems because they think that they can do it better. Maybe the combat system can be made more realistic? Or maybe the skill system can be made to better reflect how humans learn? Related to this is is the fascinations of systems, where the designer use a long time to play around with some weird detail just out of interest. Mostly these people use years to work on the game, but it will never quite get there.

The common problem here is that the designer do not focus on the role-playing experience. They are blinded by problems and frustrations that have very little to do with what actually makes the game. Of course these things can be a great motivator to get into RPG design, which is good, but they should only be the starting point. When you have encounter something in a RPG you want to change, you should immediately go down to the root of the problem and say: What is it in this role-playing experience that is a problem for me, and what experience is it I really want to have.

The second step is the process of forming the rules. Again, here it is possible to be blinded, especially by habitual thinking.

First, you should never think that a RPG should have certain element to be able to function. Things like certain stats or attributes, or even a combat system, are not necessary at all. Do not be fooled by what most other games do - you are not designing other games, you are designing your game. So you should not take anything for granted, but try to seek into what your game need.

Be very aware of what the different elements of a RPG do. Do not include or exclude some rules before you know what they do and what you can make them do. For example, instead of thinking about XP as something you get when you kill monsters, you should look at it as the more general idea of a reward mechanic, that gives feedback from the system which motivate or discourage certain behaviours. Does this sound weird and abstract? Well, it is really not that hard, but I will save the longer explanation for future articles.

Another problem is to know the difference of written and unwritten rules. Unwritten rules are interactions the gaming group do, when they play a RPG, that are not written in the rulebook. Mostly the unwritten rules are used without anyone are thinking to much about it; it is just how we always play! But if you design a game it is important that you can keep the written and unwritten rules separated. You can not take anything for granted and believe that all other people surely play RPG the same way as you do. This is simply not so, a lot of behaviour at the table is properly unique for your group.

The thing you should be aware of is that there can be a lot of interaction at the table, that the game depend on, which may not be in the rules. Some of the rules that makes the great role-playing experience in your game could be the unwritten rules, and these rules will not be transferred onto another group, and therefore no one, other than your group, will get the same experience. So if it is some of your unwritten rules that make the game great then make sure to actually make them into written rules.

To summarise:

  1. Try to find into the core of the experience you want without being sidetracked by frustrations and wrong ambitions.
  2. Be aware of what different rules and gaming techniques do, so you can pick the right ones for your game.

In this article I have talked a lot about what not to do, and normally I try not to do that, because I think it is much more productive to talk about what you should do. But I just want to give some warning if you are heading in the wrong direction.

I'll promise that my next article will be more productive by going into the technique and methods of actually doing RPG design.

- Anders

Friday, December 01, 2006

Distant Horizons links

I am working on a game that I call Distant Horizons: A Game of Adventuring and Exploring. Most of the concepts I have for this game have been presented on The Forge forum. But I thought I would make a collections of link here if anyone would be interested:
I think that I now have enough concepts ready so I can begin to think more deeply about the resolution system. Contrary to most other games I have designed (or tried to design), the resolution system have been some of the last thing I have worked on in Distant Horizons. The good thing about this approach is that I can get a clear picture of what I need the resolution system to support, and the bad thing is that I have done a lot of design before I have the possibility to playtest anything.

- Anders

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Initial post

This is the first post, and is done more as a test than anything.

Just to have some content, I will use this post to tell what this blog will be about.

Simply put: I will blog about my interests. This is not a small task because I have many of them. Here is an incomplete list:
  • Role-playing games
  • Computer/programming
  • SF/Fantasy books
  • Comics
  • Drawing
And of course some other geek stuff I wouldn't embarrassing myself with here.

But if you read this: Welcome to my blog!