Designer Diary #2: The Scope of an RPG (Part 2)

Designer-DiaryWelcome back for another designer diary! This is the second in a new series, so if you’re just jumping on board, check out our last one and let’s roll! This diary will focus on our Cosmothea Blended-Genre Roleplaying Game and Cosmoverse Campaign Setting (and associated fiction), both of which are under construction for our 5th major revamp. Comments are welcome, coveted even! From here on I’ll be blogging mostly weekly, with an occasional exception. Parts 1 and 2 are just an overview as I figure most of you are new to the blog and am starting fresh.

Sorry in advance that this post will be uber long, but I really didn’t want to have a part 3 to this overview and my time is too tight to edit this way down (I’m working 70 hours a week right now for a mobile game company—I make a living as a commercial artist), and I’m on the home stretch of publishing our first fiction offering: Arcane Synthesis: A Blended-Genre Anthology, so I’m squeezing these posts in when I can.

Next week, I’ll begin delving into game design (like Class or no Class, D10, D20, dice pools or diceless, handling races, skills, spells, etc.) and post bite-sized pieces (most of the time), so you can get through the posts faster and walk away with something fun or at least interesting.

Now to continue my overview discussion on rpg scope, where we’ve been and where we’re heading! There are lots of directions a game designer can go and some important decisions need to be made along the way (the earlier the better). But a good game designer also needs to be able to stop and turn a corner if they see a better way of handling something. I loved Cosmothea 4.0, but I’ve turned a few corners and am glad I did as 5.0 is becoming a pretty solid game. Most of the hard decisions are out of the way and the game is largely playable, though there’s still many holes in it that I’m filling as I find time, testing, revising, etc.

Rpg’s are more complicated than most probably realize and it’s likely that many designers ought to just be playing games instead of designing them (though it is therapeutic and some designers are amazing at house rules). Other designers would find more success teaming up, not because they can’t cut it, but because as I said, rpg’s are complicated and two heads are better than one, increasing the odds of a great game on the market, rather than two pretty good games that never see the light of day (assuming they can put their egos aside and work together).

I’ve had much success building teams for working on projects, but much care should be taken. Not everyone plays well together (but that’s another topic). I’m a firm believer that creative types need to stand together and help each other accomplish dreams rather than trying to strike off on one’s own. I built a team of 11 to put together Cosmothea 4.0 shortly before the economy took a nosedive in America and crushed my budget. I’m on my own again, but I’ll build another team one day for finishing Cosmothea 5.0, Lord willing. (Again, that’s another topic for another time.)

When it comes to game design, it’s impossible to please everyone with every rule or setting concept. I’ve yet to see a game on the market that someone hasn’t complained or made a house rule about. I fully expect people to make house rules about Cosmothea one day, if things go well and I get the thing published, that is. I’m very driven and very focused, but money is tight and Kickstarter isn’t a sure thing for anybody (except maybe some of the top names in the industry).

To be clear, while my designs are meant to appeal to a wide audience, my goal isn’t to please everyone. I have a very clear vision for the game mechanics, magic system, technology and other concepts and am pursuing those. In addition to developing numerous card and board games that I’m still hoping to pursue as well, I’ve spent a great deal of time on this rpg and we’ve playtested each version quite a bit over the years. But just as a writer gets better with writing, I keep learning new tricks and am getting better at the old ones too, so the game’s been improving. I’m making more changes than I thought I would with Cosmothea 5.0, but I’m very happy with where we’re heading.

I’ve also spent hundreds of hours listening to gamers and what they like and want (and will continue to—there’s so much one can learn, including from playing tons of games), and have been brainstorming for years (not to mention running countless adventures in one incarnation of the game or another). This latest revamp is well on its way, though my company, QT Games, is currently focused more on the setting and revealing it through anthologies and novels.

If all goes well, as we refine the game and get funding, and if there’s enough interest, we’ll publish the game and more setting material. Some will fall in love with the system and/or setting, others will want to stick to what they’re already playing, no doubt. Again, such is life. As some of you know, Cosmothea and the Cosmoverse aren’t generic, though I designed them to be quite extensive. So, while the products I’m creating will be able to handle running or reproducing many of the cool adventures possible in the popular settings out there (and those from the Cosmoverse, of course), some concepts were left out intentionally.

There are already several generic/universal rpg’s out there like GURPS, HERO and Savage Worlds. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, nor am I interested in a big, crunchy or generic game and setting.  The Cosmoverse doesn’t have every kind of magic one can dream up, for example, so I don’t need to design the game to tackle everything. I just want to make the best game I can to handle the setting I’ve created (which is plenty to keep me busy as it is).

I wanted to cover a lot of ground and I have, so the game has to be able to support it. The previous iterations have done a pretty good job, but I think I can do even better. In Cosmothea 4.0 I merged superhero powers with the magic system, altering both into a better system that takes fewer pages, loses none of the flavors of each, and am continuing to improve it in 5.0, for example. Some mechanics and concepts in Cosmothea 1.0 and 2.0 I’ve kept because they’re very good, others have been quickly dumped and replaced in later versions as I’ve grown as a designer, writer and artist and gathered the feedback of my freelancers and players on and offline.

I’ve seen many of my designs pop up in other games over the years, so I’m confident with my design concepts and experience, but getting a product out there on a shoestring budget and a vision for very high production values, is a tricky combination. I insist on tons of good art all over my products, and have been painting and also commissioning art for years. I’ll be needing quite a bit more art to do the game and setting justice, but I’m approaching some elements of the product line differently now, and am continually refining my approach and execution.

All the big decisions were made early on (blended-genre, lots of options, not too lite or too crunchy, large number of worlds with differing themes – post apocalyptic, dystopian, science fantasy, western science fiction, my flavor of magic, etc. Yep, I had to make a lot of decisions and ask a lot of questions, including some hard questions.

As I post on particular topics, I’ll address some of these questions. As you can imagine, after 35 years and now a new edition of the game, I’ve learned a lot and am making changes to continually improve the game. And I’m still learning. Game design isn’t for those with a weak heart or big ego. Everyone has blind spots after all. I believe in bringing together the people needed to make something great, and I’ll do that here, as needed and as my budget heals.

For Cosmothea, I wanted to be able to do all kinds of cool things, with few limitations, which meant blending the genres together and making a universe big enough that gamers could take or leave many concepts, enjoy a robust and unusual magic system, ancient and futuristic mechs and other uber advanced technology, fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, horror and other goodies all in the same, coherent universe without stepping on toes or getting silly. I wanted a setting rich in flavor and overflowing with story potential, and I think I’ve nailed that.

I decided I wanted an average Joe to have the ability to affect life in other parts of the universe, and for the gods to be active, with rich backstories (I wanted everything to have lots of flavor—my specialty!), and no matter what planet you’re on, for there to be something connecting you to the rest of existence. So, it’s a very developed setting, but there’s still tons to unpack in novels and game products). And I intentionally left some worlds on the vast star map ripe for GM’s to explore as well, because I know you guys have stories to tell too (and it works for me as a designer too)!

It’s an ambitious project with big goals, but I think I’m accomplishing many of them, and it’s not like I’m going to put out everything at once. The latest incarnation’s still under heavy construction, so it will take some time and financing to move in a big way. I’m not rushing it just to get a publishing credit. I refuse to compromise on quality just because the scope of this rpg and setting are big. Further, I don’t have to put out big books left and right just because I’ve got a big universe. I’ll be moving forward carefully, focusing on what’s working and make adjustments as needed.

I’ve also got a cool card game in the works that is directly tied into my unusual magic system and it also ties into several stories, all of which I’m very excited about, but again, one thing at a time!

Just as other game companies have a battleplan for releasing products, QT Games does too, but one thing at a time as we get back on our feet. We officially opened our doors in January and are wrapping up a successful Kickstarter campaign. We aren’t ready for a big rpg kickstarter (rpg’s with good editing and art cost a decent chunk of change). QT Games is still an unknown, despite how active I’ve been online, as we don’t have any game or setting products out yet. That will change, I believe. And we’ll be doing another Kickstarter before long for our second book: The Living Train, and hopefully start building a fan base so we can move forward with our many, many other irons in the fire!

I hope you’ll return next week for my much shorter post on designing Cosmothea (follow my blog so you don’t miss anything!) I’ll be discussing classes (pros and cons and what I ultimately decided to do).

Let’s make it a great week, all. Cheers!

About Bob Whitely/QT Games

Welcome to QT Games! Mission Never publish junk or waste people's time. Publish only high-quality fiction and games. 'Nuff said. Company Overview QT Games LLC was created to publish blended-genre (fantasy blended with sci-fi, etc.) fiction, board, card and roleplaying games for a discerning gaming community. Unlike most small press, we have very strict standards: Only pro writing, pro editing and pro art. That means that if we can't get it right, we find someone who can. We pay well for what we don't do in-house. We don't cut corners on quality. This means we stand to make less money than other small publishers, but that's okay with us. We value your time and money, so we're willing to take the bullet. We've designed a large number of games and written a pile of stories. Now we're polishing some of them and getting them out the door. 'Bout time, we know. Good stuff ahead!
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