Developer Notes

Dev Notes 13 - What are we modeling?

This Developer Note may act as sort of an update of my previous discussion about mechanics and play styles. I wouldn't say that the previous note is negated, but this one definitely reflects a maturing perspective as a result of many conversations and reflections I have had between then and now. 

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Dev Notes 12 - How to Run (and Tinker With) a Steamscapes Game

We have a rare moment of "betweenness" here at Four-in-Hand, so I would like to take this opportunity to step back and talk about design and GMing goals.

Phil Vecchione, the notable Gnome and cocaster of The Misdirected Mark podcast, has said on several occasions that he would like every game to include a section that describes how the designers envision games being run, and also how one might hack or alter that game. He feels that by bringing readers of a game under the hood, a designer can make the game more effective and more satisfying. I think this is a reasonable request, so this DevNote is dedicated to Phil.

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Dev Notes 11 - Why Make a Splatbook?

For the last month or so we have been ramping up our development of what we hope will be the first of several rules and background supplements for Steamscapes. If you have been watching carefully, you will know that we are writing a PDF-only release that will be a guide specifically for the Gunslinger profession. We will soon begin posting teaser information about that book, but in the meantime we thought it would be useful to discuss why we would even want to make such a thing in the first place.

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Dev Notes 10 - Lessons From My First Year as a Small Game Publisher

This month marks the 1-year anniversary of the existence of Four-in-Hand Games. I have learned so much this year about so many aspects of game writing and publishing, and I would like to humbly offer some of the lessons that I have picked up along the way. I hope that they may be helpful to someone out there.

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Dev Notes 9 - What is a Roleplaying Game?

Thanks to Enworld forum user Evenglare for reminding everyone of this XKCD comic.

Because our last pair of Dev Notes weren't sufficiently controversial, I thought I'd tackle one of the most contentious and frenzy-inducing questions within the gamer community: "What is a roleplaying game?" This is a question that really does not seem to have a right answer, but it definitely has plenty of wrong answers. Just try to assert your opinion on this topic in any RPG-related forum and you had better be wearing your fireproof pants. In classic internet parlance, it's flamebait. Nevertheless, I believe it is time we address it.

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Dev Notes 8 - Sexism and Power in Steampunk (Part II)

"You're in Victorian garb? Where's your corset?"
"Under my dress. Where it's SUPPOSED TO BE."
-Actual conversation reported to me by a costume enthusiast

 

In our last Dev Note, we addressed some of the problems games face in developing a Victorian setting with regard to realistic representations specifically of women. It is important to note that we acknowledge the value of choosing to present an unrealistic and artificial equality. But we hope that we have presented some reasonable argument that realism (or at least quasi-realism) can be valuable in creating interesting and even important female characters for your game.

However, there is a more thorny issue in the steampunk genre, and particularly in steampunk games. Today we will tackle the subtle inherent sexism of the steampunk aesthetic, and it largely has to do with one particular article of clothing: the corset. In many ways, the corset has become the steampunk version of the "bikini armor" problem in fantasy settings.

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Dev Notes 7 - Sexism and Power in Steampunk (Part I)

“The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.” 

― Elizabeth Cady Stanton

 

In our third Dev Note, we discussed the overall tendency of historical settings of games and fiction to gloss over and romanticize the more troubling aspects of the age they are presenting. The purpose of that note was to point out the positive conversations that can arise in addressing those issues more directly in your setting. In this installment (presented in two parts), we would like to focus the lens of that question more specifically on steampunk as a genre and steampunk games in particular.

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Dev Notes 6 - Mechanical Matters (and Mechanics Matter)

“Our best sessions are when we don’t even roll dice.” – generic, often-repeated assertion by players who are playing the wrong game

There is a visible shift this year in roleplaying games. You can see it in the instant popularity of new offerings like Fate, 13th Age, and even the upcoming D&D Next. Designers are beginning to rethink what it means to play an RPG. Indie publishers have been producing “story games” for years now – games whose mechanics do not define conflict resolution but rather narrative flow – and now many of those ideas are taking hold in more mainstream gaming. In the past, there was a certain amount of disdain between the opposing camps of story gaming and “traditional” gaming, but now it seems that the grognards are losing. Everyone apparently agrees that roleplaying is about sitting down to tell a great story, and so it’s time to abandon mechanics that “get in the way of the story.”

Or is it?

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Dev Notes 5 - Why Savage Worlds?

When creating a new roleplaying setting, there is a moment of freedom when anything is possible. The game exists solely as an idea - an image in the mind of players happily describing how their characters interact with your deeply constructed, richly detailed world. Then from that image arises a question - what are those players actually doing? Are they rolling dice? What sort of dice? A moment of panic: will I try to create a whole new system from scratch? No, of course not. Focus on the story. Use mechanics that already exist. Just choose a generic system. But...which one? 

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Dev Notes 4 - RPG Archetypes and Combat Variety

As a follow-up to our second Dev Notes, we wanted to focus more specifically on how the Steamscapes Professions can provide a rich and varied gameplay in terms of combat roles. The archetypes we mentioned in that previous article are often useful in their descriptions of how a particular character responds to a crisis, especially combat. A Warrior in many cases is expected to go toe-to-toe with the enemy, often in melee, while a Wizard-style archetype suggests applying arcane powers from a distance. Obviously, there are variations of all these archetypes that blur the lines, but a game that fails to provide at least the option for a traditional archetype may often give the impression that it is missing something.

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