I am become designer, creator of worlds! (p.3)

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“I am become designer, creator of worlds!” is a limited series on the ins and outs of building your own roleplaying game from the ground up—and with it a business model by which to grow and create more new ideas.

In the first article in this series, we presented a three-step look at how we, at ICOSA Entertainment, approached world-building for our upcoming Pathfinder® compatible steampunk RPG, Pure Steam™. This approach required us to at first limit our ambitions to create something indelible, then to “un-limit” ourselves from our biases to create something marketable, and lastly to appreciate each other’s roles to better work as a team. Once the main build was complete, though, how did playtesting it turn out? Let’s take a look back, shall we?

When the directive came down for us to begin thinking about ways we could playtest the game, there was a strong desire among the dev team to get out among the public and see their reactions for ourselves. “Going out into the public” to premier something personal you’ve created takes guts, but it also requires that you don’t underestimate your audience. We knew going in that we’d need to be ready to improvise, and—being that we were offering a sample of our joint work through a playtest module called “Trouble in Grassy Spur”—we knew we had to be ready to adapt the storyline of the adventure based on player reactions to it. We didn’t want to shove anything down anybody’s throat (i.e. the “our way or the highway approach”), and by accepting the fact that much about the adventure layout and player characters (all informed by the rules we had written) might have to change on-the-fly and ultimately for good, we approached this opportunity with open minds. “Don’t let the rules get in the way of fun,” was an operating principle during the playtest. Borrowing a page from Nike, our motto became, “Just wing it.”

(What’s that you say? Give you an example of how we…er…wung it? Prithee play the part of harkener as Davin informs you, “I ran Grassy Spur a couple times; once at RinCon [in Tucson]. ::SPOILERS [Highlight to read]:: Instead of chasing after the train with the bomb in it, the players decided the best way to protect the bridge was to derail the train before it got there. This created a real quandary for me. A whole series of encounters and challenges occurred on the train. I could say the bomb detonated and end the session right there, or I could repurpose it. I decided to change the map into a jumble of box cars with bloodied but still alive anarchists hiding in the wreckage. Here began a massive battle that ended with the death of all the anarchists and a TPK (total party kill) which was just as well since the heroes would have been guilty of an alignment shift and in big trouble for derailing the train and killing all the passengers.”)

Thus, we opened up with a salvo of public appearances (in character even) last summer, highlighted by our appearance at GenCon. Adam and Brennan went into the GenCon playtest with general questions in mind: “Is there a flaw in our presented module?”, and “Do our player characters work?” But our concerns even ventured into the specific: “Does the chaplain’s gravitas ability grant enough temporary hit points?”, “Does the chaplain have enough options in a given situation, both in and out of combat?”, and “Do the ructioneer’s class abilities reflect its flavor?” But the only answers we got were, “Yeah, this is fun.—It looks good so far.—It’s more polished than I had thought for this stage of development.”

Brennan relates, “Those answers didn’t fulfill my questions, but instead only affirmed that what we were doing was working. Granted, the playtesters weren’t game designers scrutinizing every detail, which I know now is what I was expecting, but instead just average gamers, a couple of which had never even heard of Pathfinder. And this turned out to be true for all of our playtesters, they were just average gamers with a ‘yea’ and ‘nay’ attitude, not scrupulous game designers.”

Stay tuned next week as we bring you further insight into the playtest of Pure Steam™, how we may have been wrong in gauging our audience, and what that taught us about consumer relations and the creative direction we were headed—exclusively right here on DMing.com!

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