Monday, April 20, 2015

This Is Not My Beautiful House

I got into game design with the Peryton Fantasy RPG. Its first incarnation was a booklet that I photocopied, folded over, and staple-bound early in the summer of 2005. Distribution? That consisted of giving it away to whoever still looked interested after I explained what I had done. Two more incarnations brought it to its current form and even put it onto the shelves of faraway game stores.

Before I jumped into this, I had never really thought of myself as a game designer, or even someone who wanted to be a game designer. I built my first game primarily out of frustration.

I had been playing Dungeons & Dragons off and on for a long time. When the third edition came along, I liked it. I thought it fixed a lot of things that were annoying about previous editions. Weird little subsets like thief abilities and tracking were condensed into a simple core mechanic. Armor class became a target number -- one of those ideas that was so good that it seems obvious in retrospect. Multiclassing made sense. Some other stuff, probably. They also built a bloated mass of feats and skills into it, though. They turned monster and NPC creation from creative recreation into a chore. Running the game started to feel more like work than fun.

I didn't think much about it. I just started playing other games or just doing other things. When Castles & Crusades came out, I thought it looked great at first, but then I realized that, for the sake of nostalgia, they were undoing a lot of the progress I admired. What I also realized was that anybody could do this d20-modification thing. So I downloaded the SRD, tried out some ideas, and made the game I wanted to play.

From there, I kind of got swept along. Fourth edition D&D came along and I didn't like it. Pathfinder came along and it was, if anything, worse than 3rd edition D&D. My own projects came and went. I continued to enjoy playing Peryton RPG and, eventually, I started working on Qalidar:Resistance.

Peryton RPG was never much more than a d20-fix, but Qalidar was really its own thing. Still d20-based, but with unique classes, a built-in world beyond the familiar heroic fantasy formula, and all sorts of other cool stuff that I had been dreaming up over the past 20 years or so. So, yeah... cool, I guess.

Recently, though, I added fiction to the list of things that I self-publish. Not anthologies with other writers -- those are a nightmare -- just my own stuff. For a variety of reasons, I'm loving that. One of them is that I've found a huge well of motivation and just plain joy in knowing that, once I finish a book, I can consider the job done. Sure, without promotional work, it might not sell much, but that's beside the point. It's out. And that got me thinking about why I was writing game stuff.

I no longer need to write my own game to get one I'm excited about playing. Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space is awesome. I have an Icons campaign that's going great. And, to be honest, I'd rather play 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons than Peryton Fantasy.

I also think that most of the fun of game design was in teaching myself to do new things -- not just the rules-wrangling, but layouts, graphic design, organization, all that stuff. It's not new anymore, though. It's just work. Tedious, plodding work. On the whole, I enjoy the work I do in my day job quite a bit more than that stuff.

I can't even remember when fiction-writing was new, and it's still immensely rewarding. Game design? Fuck that. Games are for playing.

Oh, I'm still gonna finish Qalidar. I might even support it, or get someone else to support it. I don't see me designing any more games for a long time, though, if ever. There's just no reason.

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