No, not really (probably), but hear me out.
As noted in the Who else is designing a Descended From the Queen game? thread, it took me a while to get to the point where I could start working on a DFtQ game of my own. I think I needed to see an example of what someone else was doing that sparked my imagination, and that example turned out to be Oh Maker.
Once I had the two points of the original game where a queen is escorted on an important mission by a group of selected companions who all love her but whose relationships with her are also complicated and in the end have to decide whether they stand by her, and Oh Maker where a group of androids have to decide whether to free themselves from the programming imparted on them by their creator with more focus on introspection, along with some of the ideas mentioned in the thread mentioned above I started to feel like there was real potential here… but I still wasn’t getting anywhere.
Not until I made a post in that thread where I outlined what I wanted to see in a game that made it different enough from the original to feel worthwhile making for me personally (I’m not knocking anyone else’s ideas or saying they won’t make games I would enjoy playing), but while writing the first half of that post I came up with a couple of ideas I put into the second half, and once I opened that gate the ideas came flooding through.
So now I have about a dozen of them jotted down in a notebook and I have to decide how to proceed. I’ve made very rough drafts for two of them (here and here), the first fairly close to For the Queen in that it focuses on the player characters’ relationship to a central figure and leads up to them making a choice relating to that figure, the second different in that it’s intended to be more about politics and the characters’ relationship to a political situation rather than an individual, and I had intended to do the same for at least three more ideas before I focus in on any one of them.
Then I recalled the episode of the RPG Design Panelcast on stage gate development and I figured this could be a good way for me to test that design method. Very roughly, and with the caveat that all I know about this topic is what I picked up from that episode a few weeks back, stage gate development means you develop a number of different ideas in parallel with periodical evaluation of which ones you move forward with.
If I’m applying this incorrectly below, please let me know! I’m kinda fumbling around here to see if this is at all workable.
For me, this would mean structuring my design process here a bit more which if nothing else might help me focus a bit and deity knows I could use that.
So like I said, I’ve had about a dozen ideas that were good enough to write down (with two more added while writing this post). I guess the first gate would be to go through that list and figure out which ones seem worth spending the couple of hours it takes to make that first rough draft. Let’s go with that.
Gate 1: Draft-Worthiness
I’ll limit this to ten ideas, partly to force myself to do some culling, partly to have a sizable but manageable collection moving forward. I should be able to finish these ten in two weeks, even with other projects stealing some time.
I think each gate should depend on what the next step in development would be, and in this case I think that means printing out the cards and doing some solo playtesting - just drawing the cards and thinking up answers to see if what I come up with meshes with the feel and feelings I’m going for. That’s not a huge investment so I can be fairly generous, so let’s say I intend to cut three more ideas here and move forward with seven. I’d like a spread of ideas, both thematically and mechanically, so I guess that’s the criteria?
Gate 2: Uniqueness
So the seven ideas that pass this gate will get printed out and I’ll do some solo testing. This should be doable in a couple of evenings, but let’s give it a week.
The next step will be to do some live playtesting with my gamer friends. They’re usually willing to put up with trying new things (and at this point I expect to have played For the Queen with most of them so they’ll know what to expect), but time is an issue. Squeezing in a test run of one of these once per week might be possible, but it’s far from certain. Let’s be pessimistic and say it takes two weeks per game, and I don’t want this to take too long so I’ll just pick out three games here. These will get the full treatment with instruction and inspiration cards which means some extra work.
So picking out the ones that I will go on to this step with will depend on how they work in my solo tests, making the third gate…
Gate 3: Feels
I guess this is where I start to work on making the cards actually look nice for an actual release. That’s not something I enjoy and probably something I should only do for a single game, so I guess I should pick just one of the three that have made it this far and I think the only criterion will be if I want to make it.
Gate 4: Do I Wanna?
So I guess that’s some kind of plan?
Note that all titles are very provisionary. The links go to Google docs and I’ll be happy to take any comments there or here.
The Hero’s Successors: As the city’s guardian hero prepares to retire, they have called together various individuals - friends, associates, rivals - in whom they see the spark of heroism to ask them to continue the work of keeping the city safe. Explores the characters’ relationships to the hero. First draft.
Movement and Hierarchy: At the dawn of revolution, the leaders of various resistance groups have to decide whether to throw in their lot with a radical faction or wait for a more opportune moment to strike. Explores the world and the characters’ motivations. First draft.
Farm Guardians: The players are minor spirits and other supernatural creatures living on and around a farm. They have made various deals with the family living there, but as a new generation prepares to take over the farm the guardians reconsider their relationships with the family. Explores the relationships between the creatures and the family. First draft.
Post-Apocalyptic Survivors: The players are survivors in a camp located in one of the few livable places after the world was destroyed. At dawn a threat will arrive to attack the camp. Do they stay and fight or leave? Explores the world and what pushes the characters to stay or leave. First draft.
The Curtain Rises: A group of actors are rehearsing a strange and sinister play put on by a mysterious producer and a tyrannical director. Will they play their parts when the curtain rises? Explores the play and what impels the actors to participate. First draft.
The Master’s Disciples: The disciples of a religious leader await his ascension and/or death at dawn. Explores religious teachings and the relationship between the disciples and the teacher. Fist draft.
Journey to Yomarihai: A group of travellers seek the mythical land of Yomarihai, encountering strange peoples and customs along the way. Once they arrive, will they want to return home or stay? Explores the world and the characters’ reactions to foreign lands. Uses a staged deck with three sets of cards for the familiar homelands, the strange lands beyond, and Yomarihai. First draft.
Stay or Go: Two people in a long term relationship turned sour has to decide whether to try again or break up. For two players. Explores the relationship between the characters. First draft.
My last couple of attempts have run into problems where I’ve realized that I don’t have a good ending for the game, or the exploration isn’t that interesting. I’ve got a couple of more ideas I think can work out, so I’ll still try to hit ten rough drafts but since I’ll be out of town for much of next week and I’ll also need to prep a regular game for Saturday I may not get there for a while. We’ll see.