Devblog: Generating content!

I’ve had a writing schedule of one page per day for Bliaron 2nd ed.. I felt I needed a clear goal, something to lean on, a deadline to push for. When I began to write, I had a fairly broad vision, but there were countless details that I hadn’t thought through. Surely someone might have told me that I need a clear project plan, when I’m going to do and what, and I probably would have believed that too. But I had no such plan, just this 1-good-page-per-day, and that’s it. And I stand by it, it’s a good method. I counted that I had something like 150 days, so if I’d keep up with the pace, I’d have 150 pages written by the end of 2018.  I knew I should strive to quality material straight from the beginning, but on the other hand, doubt hit me, could I really push 1 page of quality material, fit for the book, every single day? It was actually quite unreasonable, I’m not that consistent of a writer, nor do I have enough game testing time to actually make sure that everything works straight from the beginning. And I also guessed that there would be days of no writing, and then I could compensate by writing more on better days. And then I’d probably use some days to edit, not just creating new material all the time… So I was bending the rules a bit. Quickly the 1-qood-page-per-day rule became just 1-page-per-day, on average. And even so, I fell far short of that. But the thing is, pdf for play-testing stands 88 pages today. But that’s 88 pages that I can actually be proud of.

Surely there are still missing chapters, and paragraphs that feel a bit fuzzy or unedited, but all over, I’ve been able to drop out non-relevant details from the Finnish edition, and came up with tons of new material. Somehow all of the text feels like it’s bringing something new and interesting. The one-page-per-day has focused writing into manageable times, but I’ve never had so long pauses in development that I’d forget what I was doing. So, the final question is, is the end goal actually amount of content or quality of content, and how can this be judged? It seems some games have different takes on this subject. Some people prefer thick books with hundreds of pages just to get the feeling that the designers have actually put some work into it, but others like lean and simply written books, as getting familiar with less content is easier. Bliaron 2nd edition therefore seeks the midpoint here, with as simple and summarized rules as possible, yet having enough content to answer to most questions arising on how to play this game. Just word by word analyzing, many commercial bigger rpg books tend to be somewhere between 100k to 200k words, some being leaner at 60-80k words, while few reaching as much as 400k words. Bliaron 2nd ed. will definitely be on the leaner side of this comparison (playtest book stands currently around 40k words, the final will be likely 60-100k words).

An interesting aspect of content generation is actually the one that makes it relevant to the players, the content that the players generate themselves. The core experience of role-playing revolves on what happens around the table. Prewritten content does have it’s say on what goes on at the table, but finally what makes role-playing different from reading a book is the living nature of the game. Role-playing thrives on the moment, experience, being creative and getting sucked into one’s imagination. The game aims to facilitate that by giving players tools and methods for improvisation. Text tries to answer to not only question “What kind of adventures are played in Bliaron RPG”, but also “What should we play RIGHT NOW?”. Looking at the content right now, this, improvised content generation, is one of the main focuses of game development and game testing going on right now.

Improvised theater (and acting in general) has plenty of good methods for this, but they are obviously directed more towards stage acting rather than tabletop play. The whole mindset of tabletop role-playing seems to be different, depending of course on the adopted style-of-play, whether you strive to tell an open-ended story together or try to play through GM’s pre-generated adventure. I try not to value which gaming style is better, as it’s just a matter of preference, and I can enjoy both styles of play, and it is possible to employ pieces of both styles in a single game, but when thinking about game design, Bliaron 2nd ed. hopes to explore the moment, when players sit together, get inspired of each other, and the story kind of generates itself. And this, I believe, can be helped by a certain kind of system design, and mentality that comes with it. There is a common way to react that is practiced in improvised theater – “Say yes, and” – and while it’s not always necessarily about saying it aloud, the principle is to accept what others are telling and build on top of it. While in theater scenes this can be understood as giving power on your character to co-actors, it feels counterintuitive in role-playing where players tend to like having the full ownership of their characters. But how about suggesting things? How about npc’s? How about generating content together about npc’s or locations? What amount of surprises, secrets and plot twists have to be only known by the GM?

It’s definitely game testing time!

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