2008-10-24 : Me and Robin Laws talk about writing

Hey, if you want to listen to me and Robin Laws talk about writing, you can, here at Sons of Kryos. It's from Luke's insano all-day crash course at GenCon.

I don't really remember what I said, except that you should read like crazy. I'm happy to answer questions though, as always!

1. On 2008-10-29, Dustin Cooper said:

You were a great counter-point to Robin! Thanks for telling us about this!


2. On 2008-10-29, Callan S. said:

I kind of felt pain when hearing the number one problem with indie RPGs was that the text wasn't exciting enough. To be honest, it just seems so minor a thing I couldn't bear empathising with the passion he clearly felt about it, so I stopped listening at that point. Does it continue like that? Are there any choice times in the recording to listen to?


3. On 2008-10-30, Gregor said:

For what it's worth, I think it's a point worth taking note of that Robin makes. I think we could do a better job of translating the excitement at the table into the text.

I like to think of local bands that I've heard, who are great live but seem "flat" on their CDs. It's the same thing.


4. On 2008-10-30, Vincent said:

Yeah, I agree with Robin about that one.

I think our writing's probably better overall than Shadowrun's, for instance. But does anybody think it's great? I surely don't.

(Disclaimer: Shadowrun's writing may be AMAZING now, I shouldn't be mean when I haven't read a Shadowrun book in 15 years. I just can't help it.)


5. On 2008-10-30, Ben Lehman said:

Note that Robin only reads indie RPGs that he is given, for free.

I'm not surprised that games written by authors who under-value their own work so much that they give it away for free to kinda-famous people (Look! A kinda famous person! Touch my book! vomit) don't have writing worth reading.

I'm going to stop here before I say something even more unkind.



6. On 2008-10-30, Alexander Davis said:

Wait, he actually does that? I thought he was joking when he said that...

In that case, I do agree with you to a certain extent. I understand things like playtest copies or the like given to people, particularly those who (hopefully) know something about games, to help gain feedback.

But I'm don't agree with giving out free copies of a completed game to someone just because of who or what they are.


7. On 2008-10-31, Gregor said:

Well, I have found that by giving a free copy to Robin (and he may joke about them being his "due reward") you get an opinion out of him if you ask for it. And I find that very useful.

In my experience he has been a more reliable target for my books than, say, a lot of reviewers out there who will simply add your book to their "pile" never to see the light of day.

He talked about this podcast here:


8. On 2008-10-31, Emily said:

It's an incredibly common thing in other fields too—directors get given a lot of scripts, and editors get unsolicited manuscripts. The implication is different there (you're giving it so someone who has the power to publish or create your work), but the intent is similar. Getting feedback, or attention from someone who is established in the field. It can be bad or good depending.


9. On 2008-10-31, Valamir said:

I dig Robin Laws.

I'll dig him more when he actually publishes a game of his own independently.

I like pretty much everything he's done, but can't think of a single game with his name on the cover that I would consider to be more than 80% finished.  But its finished enough for the publisher to go to print with so that's that.  Rune, Dying Earth, Hero Wars...I weep when I think how good those games could have been if they'd actually been fully polished and baked.

I don't know whether its the publisher's interferring, the traditional publishing model just not allowing enough time to get it right, or freelancers not having a vested stake in making what they write any better than "good enough"...but I like to think that if he were to publish something on his own...without the interference of publishers, or the time constraints of a release cycle; something that was completely his...I'd be blown away by the awesome.  Until then...I find his thoughts only partially relevant to me, and how I perceive design.


10. On 2008-11-03, Eero Tuovinen said:

If somebody is saying that indie games do not have as much emphasis on the reading experience (the ampleness, texture and imaginative content of engaging with the book as entertainment for its own sake) as any supplement treadmill game, he's basically right; I can't see how anybody could or would contend that, considering how much more work is put into fictional worlds and people, art and world-building in traditional rpg houses than in indies.

This is important in that whatever any individual one of us happens to think, the reading experience is not only a factor of product quality, but also one of game design technique. Any single product may quite rightfully be built to leverage light simplicity and direct to-play motivation, but the reverse also exists as a technique: history seems to prove it pretty solidly that there exists a valid market audience for games that put all their effort into exciting fictional content that motivates the reader to become the GM-facilitator for a whole group of players. The games that combine this approach to product design with 100% concerned system design are rare beasts at this point - The Shadow of Yesterday sort of does something like it, but it doesn't really have quite enough fictional bulk to it. Of course, it's questionable whether this sort of thing can or should be done when your design priorities are the sort of lean, narrativist things Forge has traditionally fostered.


11. On 2008-11-03, Brand Robins said:


Broad agreement.

There are a few Indie games that do this kind of thing: Reign, Hero Quest (which goes in and out of being Indie, I guess), and a few others. But by and large there is such emphasis on game as thing played rather than game as book that the actual craft of making a game fun to read (even in making the prose snap, much less the fictional weight of which you speak) has not always done well.

Really, hate to say it, but even for a shorter game I still have to read the damn thing before I can play, and there are ever so many Indie games in which that process is actively unpleasant. I counter this only with the fact that there are a lot of trad games that are just as poorly written.


12. On 2008-11-07, Dustin Cooper said:

Here is a short list of indie games that were clear and fun to read for me:
??? Dogs in the Vinyard
??? Dust Devils
??? Don't Rest Your Head
??? Burning Wheel (YES!)
??? Donjon
??? Cat
??? Faery's Tale
??? In a Wicked Age
??? Og

Here is a short list of indie games that were fun to read, but not that clear on the rules (I still like them, but they were just hard to figure out how to play):
??? Spirit of the Century (400 pages, and I am still confused..., but it looks so fucking cool!)
??? Best Friends (he needs to revise this game)
??? Esoterroists (that kind of includes Trail of Cthulu too) the point spending parts of the investigation skills is what is confusing to me (the rest is easy).
??? My Life With Master (I still can not figure out how this is supposed to be run)
??? Prime Time Adventures (we stumbled through three games before giving up... fun, though)

Robin Laws was the first author that showed me you can put the description of combat in the rules of the game (feng shui) and Vincent showed me you can aply that concept with everything (Dogs). So you two have a special place in my heart.


13. On 2008-11-10, Dustin Cooper said:

Vincent, if I was at the panel, I would have asked you this question (because I am not sure if Robin Laws has put out an Ashcan):

Do you find it more effective to sell your rpg prototypes as Ashcans or putting the rules up on line for people to play test (like with your game "Storming the Wizard's Tower") and why?

Brendan Taylor put up the rules for his new game for people to down load too and I am curious which one is more effective for the game writer.


14. On 2008-12-18, chris_moore said:

I'm definitely taking this podcast to heart as I write the final text of Psi-Run.


15. On 2008-12-19, Meguey said:

Yay! I'm very excited to hear about final text for Psi-Run!


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